From My Perspective – Reading books

December 11, 2002

The other day I was having an email discussion with several other Voice writers when one of them brought up the topic of book reviews, stating that a particular book was one you would “not want to put down.” I responded with a semi-serious question, “you have time to read books???” His answer provided a helpful suggestion, and really got me thinking about the whole issue of reading for pleasure.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and the library is one of my most revered places. Those of you who are long-time Voice readers may remember my article on an encounter with a librarian. The article detailed my experience as a small child – in Grade One, but reading at a Grade Six level – having to prove to the vigilant bookmobile librarian that I really was capable of reading all those difficult books I wanted to borrow.

From the moment I learned to read, I rarely went anywhere without a book in hand. At school I would arrive at class, and rather than hang out in the hallway waiting for class to start, I would sit down in my desk, reading my book. I would be so absorbed in my reading that often the class would be well into the lesson before the teacher would notice that I still had my nose stuck in my book and yell “Debbie!! Put down the book and join the class!”

Reading was not just a solitary activity for me, either. My friends and I spent many companionable hours together, not saying a word, just sitting in the same room reading our books. I never minded being left to stay with relatives in the country – as long as they had plenty of books for me to read, I was never bored. Reading was often a distraction from the task at hand, and I was easily sidetracked. For example, if I was sent to lay old newspapers on the floor of a room that was to be painted – guaranteed I would be found still sitting on the floor hours later, completely absorbed in reading those newspapers!

Reading has always been my favoured method of relaxation, and my choice of subject depends on my mood – so I enjoy reading a wide variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction. My preferred way of getting the news is by reading the newspaper instead of watching TV. I would much rather “read the book” than “see the movie.” I enjoy reading technical manuals too… the first thing I do when buying a new piece of equipment is read the manual!

As a university student, however, my love of reading has been put on hold. Don’t get me wrong. I am passionate about my studies, and my course readings give me great satisfaction. But it is not the same as reading purely for pleasure, and this is something I really miss. It’s been a very long time since I actually read a book that was not mandated by Athabasca University. My fellow writer’s comments made me realize that I need to change this.

He commented that finding time for reading can be managed by using little “micro chunks of time” throughout our busy day. It may be while we are waiting in line at the drive-through, waiting to pick up our kids after school or a dance lesson, getting our car filled up with gas, or while sitting in the doctor’s office. I’ve tried this with my textbooks… I carry them around with me, and try to read pages here and there whenever I can. But I find that I cannot put a proper level of focus on the course when reading a few paragraphs here and there, and often lose my place and forget what I’ve read. If I were reading a novel, or a non-academic book, this would be different. When reading a paragraph or two from a book that is weaving a gripping story, it’s relatively easy to put it down and pick it up later without losing continuity. When the book is going into an analysis of race relations in historical Canada, detailing the chemical composition of the brain, or explaining a formula for calculating probability; it’s quite another matter.

His words made me think that perhaps I’m making a mistake in feeling that all my free moments should be occupied with academic reading. Putting my love of reading on hold has been depriving me of an important source of relaxation. Finding success in university studies requires balance in how we structure our lives. I’ve already learned the hard way that neglecting my physical health because I’m too occupied in my studies can have serious consequences. It’s no different with mental and emotional health. Taking a little bit of time for ourselves to engage in an activity we enjoy outside of schoolwork can have a highly restorative effect on our equilibrium, and leave us refreshed and re-motivated.

Of course, reading for pleasure is risky behaviour for me, since I may find myself completely distracted by the book – to the detriment of my other activities. It’s possible that if I have too many non-academic books at my disposal, I will be inclined to forego my studies on days when I’m feeling stressed and burned out, gravitating instead toward a novel that “I just can’t put down.” I’m also quite capable of getting so lost in a book that I forget to go pick my daughter up from school! Even going into a bookstore can be quite dangerous, since I am easily tempted to invest a significant chunk of my paycheque on books. But I think the benefits will outweigh the risks. I’ve sacrificed many things in my goal toward a degree, and placed much of my life on hold. Several important things, however, should never be sacrificed, because they are integral to success: 1. your own physical, mental and emotional health, 2. your family, and 3. your friends.

Not only does reading for pleasure help me find balance in my mental and emotional health, books are my friends. I look forward to spending some quality time with those friends by doing some non-academic reading during those “micro-chunks of time” throughout my day.

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.