By Holly Downes
Oh, the pleasures of reading. The experience of roaming around an ancient bookshop, the floor creaking at every step you take as you ravenously search through the novels desperately waiting to be explored. Careful to not be deceived by a pretty cover, you allow your heart to control your footsteps towards the novel that will become your compulsive obsession for the next few days. As always, you end up selecting an array of books that could last a lifetime, yet you must make one of life’s hardest decisions — parting with some masterpieces in fear of having to take out a small mortgage dedicated to your book obsession. So, as you regretfully depart with some and select the books that your life would be significantly worse without, you rush home and immerse yourself into the world of beautiful literature.
This is a universal experience for many book lovers, I am sure. The joys of exploring the tunnels of fine writing. The joys of flicking through the crisp pages of a brand-new book. The joys of finishing a book that has had the power to change your life. These joys are the aftermath of choosing to read for pleasure — to read for yourself and yourself only. To disengage from the overwhelming pressures of reality and get a taste of the fictional world created within the sentences and chapters of a novel. For me, this is the beauty of the novel — its power to mesmerise you, to trap you, to force an overwhelming wave of sadness upon you when you reach its last pages. Undeniably, it is a powerful tool essential for our growth.
Yet, this is where reading literature can take a sour turn. The power of a novel can be taken too seriously, where its ability to educate and enrich the mind is exploited for our own selfish purposes. This is what my English Literature degree has done. It advertises literature as a ‘tool’ to be manipulated and exploited in exchange for a momentary ego boost and a high essay grade. We are commended on stripping books naked and revealing their skeletal structures in a desperate discovery to expose its deeper meanings.
This exploitation stops when literature is acknowledged for its simplicity, not its complexities and confusing contradictions. How the simple amalgamation of words can relax the mind and body, not plummet it into a deep distress when you cannot locate the author’s intention from a singular word. My degree has programmed me to analyse every inch of a novel — its wording, its language, its structure, its underlying meanings, its authorial intentions. Everything. I destroy their delicately assembled pages with my notes and harsh underlining, eager to replace what was intended as a calm-inducing read into a stressful experience. Shameful to admit it, but I have become a book exploiter. I have shamelessly exploited the beautiful creation of books to satisfy my intense desire to succeed. And my degree is solely to blame.
This all means when I try to read a novel for pure enjoyment, a novel that does not require me to write lengthy essays analysing its structure, it always ends up destroyed by my harsh underlining’s and notes my brain has poured onto the page. I always seem to have a pencil in my hand when reading a book, irrespective of its significance to my degree. My brain is merely programmed to associate books with brain-aching analysis, so without a pencil in my hand, these books become meaningless. My degree has selfishly stripped the joys of reading from me — where a book intended for relaxation rather reminds me of the horrors of trying to analyse a novel at 4am for an essay due that morning.
The irony. I chose my degree to further develop my love for reading, not to put me off it for life. Studying English Literature has destroyed every drop of pleasure produced from novels, replacing serenity with mounts of stress when I am programmed to dissect novels to the bone. Yet, I guess this is the sad reality of studying English Literature at a degree level — the only way you can do well on an essay is through thorough analysis. There is simply no room, or time, to read for pleasure.
Yet, I am determined to not let my degree take away one of life’s finest experiences away from me. I guess the only way to achieve this is by shifting my mindset when picking up a novel — asking myself if a particular novel will be useful in a future essay. And if not, I will put the pencil down. I will tell my brain to stop going into overdrive over the author’s use of personification. I need to appreciate literature for what it is again — for the creativity poured into its fine pages that transport you to another dimension. I need to rediscover my love for reading, no matter how long it takes.
Image: Green Chameleon via Unsplash