Discussion Assigned Reading: Does Having to Read Something Take Away from the Joy of Reading?

I’m currently pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing, I take a mix of English and Writing degrees plus the general education classes will all have to have. Most of my classes involve reading, there’s the usual textbook assignments, but for many of my classes I have to read things I would read on my own. This sounds good right? To get to read something good without having to make extra time for it. In theory this is the ideal situation. But there is something different about sitting down and reading a book for class, and reading it just for the sake of it.

A lot of people have this voice in their head that makes them not want to do something once they’ve been told to do it. Trust me I get it, I was a sassy teenager once who didn’t want to do the things she was told, even when I had wanted to do that thing a moment before. I have however, grown out of that (for the most part) so it’s not really a factor for me But this is something I’ve heard other people mention whenever this topic is brought up. For me the problem isn’t that I don’t want to read whatever is assigned, I mean sometimes I really don’t like what we’re reading, but a writer I want to read as much as I can. And especially works other people find to be significant in some way. But anyway, my trouble is that I have a hard time not analyzing everything I read, I think about why every little thing matters, what the symbolism is all the things you are thought to look for in an English class.

When I’m reading something completely different than I would for a class it’s a little easier, like if it’s a graphic novel, or anything that would be considered ‘light’ reading. The only book I read last semester was Wayward Son, and I had no problem enjoying that one. I think one thing that helped was listening to it on audiobook, this way there was something to distinguish the book I was reading for pleasure and the one for class. I didn’t have any trouble reading during the summer, but over winter break I read Little Women, and it first it was hard to shut off the analytical English/writing major part of my brain. I think that it’s harder to read classics without engaging them critically like you would for a class. And when you are reading them for a class, it’s different then reading them just for fun. Like whenever I read Too the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf I liked the story, but I couldn’t really get swept away by the story because I was reading it through that academic lens.

This semester I’m taking a Jane Austen class, it’s a lot of reading but I thought that since I like Jane Austen it would be easier to keep up with the reading then with other classes. It isn’t really any easier. I have read most of her books before I enjoyed them, but right now I’m reading Pride and Prejudice for the third time and I don’t find myself wanting to read it. I’m reading it because I have to and it’s good, I just don’t look forward to reading it in the same way I did the last two times I read it. I mean I am engaging with the book in a different way, noticing new things, and I look forward to class and the discussions we have. I just get less pleasure from the actual act of reading and that makes me a little sad. I don’t want to always be thinking critically of every book I read. But I guess that’s what I signed myself up for. I’m spending a lot of money to learn about something I’m passionate about, yet it’s making my enjoy one of my favorite things less. It’s not exactly ruining reading that would be going too far, and it’s impossible to ruin reading for me, but college is changing how I read and I’m not sure I like how it’s changing.

What do you all think? How do you feel about assigned reading? Are there any other English or writing majors who understand this struggle?

6 thoughts on “Discussion Assigned Reading: Does Having to Read Something Take Away from the Joy of Reading?

  1. I feel like reading assigned books has the opposite effect on me: there are several books that I’ve actually liked more after having been assigned them and discussing them in class. Strange how it affects different readers differently!

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  2. I definitely have a difficult time reading books that are assigned. There’s too much pressure to read them and HAVING to read something takes away a lot of the pleasure. HAVING to read something makes me read a book differently. A feeling of looking for things I may have to write about, or be asked questions about, rather than reading for pure pleasure. But that could just be me.

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    1. I completely get that. I feel like I read assigned books more critically. Like you mentioned I look for what I think is relevant to the class, and I don’t always have fun doing that.

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  3. Ah you make a wonderful point here! I, too, was a Creative Writing major and reading for class was always a different experience than reading for fun. This was partly due to not liking to be told what to do and partly because I was rarely in the mood to read the books assigned to me. In college, I started becoming more a mood reader than a planned reader, so my willingness to read whatever was required of me hit some resistance. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of classics during that time. And I had the same problem of turning off the analytical part of my brain when reading classics or any other books outside of class. I still do, but now I’ve come to enjoy being able to read a classic and dissect the text to a certain degree. Classics hold so much and I think taking those classes in literature really helped to find the value in some older books when it could be so easy to set it aside and say it’s irrelevant outside a school setting. It can still be a little frustrating though LOL

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    1. Yeah I’m glad for the chance to read and discuss classics, reading them for class helps me to understand them better. And to appreciate them as important works of literature, even though I don’t always have an essay time reading them. I’m a big mood reader, and so I get not being in the right mood to read what you’re assigned.

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