• Isabelle Osborne

How to read the books you want to whilst studying a degree

Are you a university student? Does your degree mean elongated reading lists are taking up all of your time? Are you struggling to find time to read the books you want to outside of your degree demands?


Speaking from the point of view of an English Literature degree student, I know the struggle of balancing the books on your module readings lists whilst finding time to read the books your heart truly desires. I have approx. 31 texts across the four modules I'm taking this year, which highlights the demands of an English degree in regards to the length of reading lists. That being said, any degree will inevitably bring increased reading demands, which means students will have less free time to dedicate to personal reading goals.


Here are a few tips I have picked up since beginning university, which has helped me meet the demands of my degree whilst also keeping up with my personal literary ventures.


Don't mix work and pleasure

It is important not to blur the lines between degree-books and personal-books, especially because the former requires concentration in a way that ensures you are learning something in order to aid your studies. Personal-books, on the other hand, are merely for your own enjoyment, and don't necessarily require the same level of engagement. To help with this, I separate degree-books from personal-books by physical environment; I sit at my desk to read degree-books, as this puts me in the academic, analytical headset, and sit anywhere that is not my desk (sofa, garden, bed) to read my personal books. I find it vital to keep these environments separate; for example, I would never read a degree-book in bed before I sleep, as these books demand concentration and constant analysis, so I'm actively waking my brain up rather than sending myself off to sleep.


Dedicate time to both

To help with keeping your reading demands separate, it is important to set aside time to read the relevant material your degree stipulates and another time to read the books of your personal choice. I spend time in the day (usually the morning) to complete degree-books, which I do alongside any other academic work, whilst leaving my personal reading to the late afternoon with a cup of tea and before I go to bed. So, although I am always reading two books at once, it never really feels like it because I treat them as completely separate entities, and this has allowed me to balance degree-reading with personal-reading.


Know when the prioritise

This may sound like a complete contradiction of the previous suggestion. However, it is important to remember that sometimes reading demands cannot always be met. Sometimes you can't quite keep up with multiple books, even if you view them as different entities that require different attention. Ultimately, degree-books are what must take precedence during term time, so if that means letting a personal-book fall behind slightly, that is what I have to accept. If you're suffering from a reading slump or finding it hard to juggle lots of different texts, it may be that degree-books have to take precedence. This will ensure I can keep up with the demands of my course and not fall behind, and so I can perform to my best in seminars, tutorials, essays and exams. This, in turn, means there is less pressure to finish books that I'm reading for pleasure, and therefore I enjoy them more!


Overall, remember that you are reading because you enjoy it. Don't put pressure on yourself to complete your Goodreads challenge if you're struggling to cope with the reading your degree demands, and try to view personal-books and degree-books as separate responsibilities. And if things get too much, take time away and go back to them with fresh eyes.



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Words are all we have.

 - Samuel Beckett

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World of Words 

By Isabelle Osborne