How to avoid academic bibliophobia? Discussing the terminal effects of academic reading on a book nerds psyche

Eimear Feeney discusses the stresses of academic reading and how it can affect a genuine love for reading

Finals are approaching and it is the universal student experience to feel agitated over the amount of assignments that keep piling up. It can be even more difficult if you are running away from an activity you used to enjoy, leaving an arduous library session saying you are getting some fresh air before, inevitably stumbling into Hodges and Figgis. Throughout my life, bookshops have always been the ideal safe haven away from academic pressures. Yet browsing the titles recently, I became increasingly disheartened. The reality is I simply had no time to actively engage in any of these books and at that exact moment I had ten tabs opened each dedicated to a different article to read alongside a tilting tower of books on my nightstand. If my younger self saw me she would wonder why I was “acting up” about achieving our literary dream. While I will never regret my degree choice, I find it upsetting that a desire for academic success has replaced my pure love for reading. This internal conflict is not unique to me. I suspect that everyone has lost interest in a former passion because of stress in university.

“Books once facilitated me escaping my responsibilities, but now they have become the responsibility and cause of stress.”

Along with always being asked what you want to pursue in the future, humanities students have a particular fear of losing their interest in reading since it sets the foundation for their degree. This fear extends to the entire student body losing their previous pastimes. Personally, I am an English Literature and History student who spends roughly 70-80% of her time reading a week. When I was a kid, I was enamoured with reading because it was a form of escapism for my boundless imagination. A book was a portal into another dimension, where I could climb into someone else’s unfolding story. The same applies to nonfiction, and I enjoyed history as the study of stories from the past. Books once facilitated me escaping my responsibilities, but now they have become the responsibility and cause of stress. By choosing to study literature academically, I have relinquished the ability to read a book just for the fun of it (never say never, maybe in my retirement). No longer can I read a book passively. Instead I must search for the biases or omnipotence of the narrator’s position in the text, watch out for societal issues hidden and judge the use of language and its effectiveness. In my childhood brain, I deeply respected an author for crafting the text but that doesn’t hold up now when I am studying Formalism and reading The Death of the Author. 

Since academic readings are a burden carried by the entire student body, I thought it would be insightful to interview some students and investigate if their interactions with reading has changed since entering third-level education. Senior Freshman History and Law student Emily Sheehan remarked that the term academic reading “is synonymous with convoluted and complicated reading”. When asked if it is a struggle to keep up with coursework she stated: “My course is very ‘independent reading’ heavy and it’s stressful just looking at the reading list”. One of the biggest struggles in a student’s life is time management, balancing time between academics and personal life. Personally, I find that it is hard as a student to isolate time for my separate interests while studying and socialising. Asking Sheehan if her interest in reading has been affected by academic reading, she replied: “It feels like if I have time to read at all I should use it doing academic or college reading rather than reading for pleasure”. Additionally, after a long day at College: “The last thing you want to do is delve into another book even if it’s just for pleasure.” 

Senior Sophister Philosophy student Nadia Lemfadal has a balanced outlook on her own  academic reading. She detailed: “I don’t have as much time to read for pleasure and as my course involves substantial academic reading, if I have some time off I am more drawn to other activities”. She continued with a positive note: “I would not have come across a lot of books and papers I now love if it hadn’t been for my course.” In response to the question that attaches stress to academic reading she commented that: “My reading lists have always been proportionate to the module content and at least in my experience they tend to work more as deeper research than a necessary requirement”. Senior Freshman Physics student Aoibheann Kearins showcases a different perspective, stating: “Luckily, since words is [are] something my course often lacks, it means books are a great escape and getaway for me as it is removed from my degree”. She highlights that reading is less of a burden for her as her course “is more numbers than theory based”, but still regards academic reading as “a bit of a scary word when it’s brought up because none of us quite know what it entails.” Her main experience with academic reading would be “references for lab reports”, where there is little communication: “Research with absolutely no guidance [on] how to do so.”

“Readings and coursework are stressful but they are also engaging when you set yourself in the right mental state.”

Everyone has their own ways of dealing with stress, and mine happens to be ranting in a university publication. Readings and coursework are stressful but they are also engaging when you set yourself in the right mental state. Here is a list of things to reignite your  extinguished love of reading and prolong academic burnout. Romanticising your coursework is beneficial because designing anything as aesthetic and appealing will make anyone more inclined to actually do the work. Attempting to improve your mindset by thinking of the library not as a dungeon where dreams end up destroyed, but as an arena where you can challenge your mind also may help. This strategy works terrifically if you are a competitive person.  Listening  to music and remembering snacks also renders studying more enjoyable. I also recommend audiobooks  for a nice break from reading and studying. They enable you to continue that dusty personal reading list that you started at the beginning of the term (that probably hasn’t been touched since). Avoid doing readings during mealtimes in favour of an activity for yourself like personal reading or journaling!

United in this struggle as a student body, we can all rant and rave about our academic coursework and remember that it could be worse. We are all studying in an influential institution and in the end, the exhaustion and stress will be worth it (fingers crossed).