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March 4, 2019 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Stepping Into Pages

Whenever I ask, “So, do you read?” to any new acquaintance (who may not realise the weight of the question), the response is all too often a variation of, “I used to read a lot, but since I started uni/high school/intermediate, I haven’t had so much time.”


This is an unfortunate reality. It is easy to read a lot as a child, because there is nothing else to do. You don’t have a phone, independence, or a social life. But as your world expands, it is easy for books to become less and less of a priority, until you are constantly afflicted with the feeling that you should be reading more. Perhaps, if you picked up a book, you would find knowledge and adventures and an intelligence-enhancing accessory.

This is the part of the article where I should quote studies which prove that people who read are smarter, more creative, more engaged with the world, and more prone to using long words they can’t pronounce. People who read books have probably been shown to have stronger moral compasses, healthier diets, and more hours of sleep. If you’re interested in that—look it up yourself, you nerd. I will be spending my time much better by reading a novel.

Being able to read while studying and working and having a social life and occasionally cooking porridge is hard. But there are lots of people (including me, obviously), who manage to do it, so I asked some of them for advice:


‘CW’ (her online name) is a book blogger at The Quiet Pond and a Masters student at the University of Auckland, where she is finishing her thesis in Psychology. I figured that she had a lot more experience at reading and studying than me, and asked her how she made time for it. She recommends developing a routine: “I tend to carve out half an hour (or more, if the book is engaging) [to] read before bed,” she said. In addition to giving her time to read, CW finds that this habit she has cultivated calms her when she is busy or stressed.


Ella Somers is a University of Canterbury student and book blogger who reads more than 100 books a year. She also tries to keep reading regularly, even when she doesn’t have much time for it: “I really hate not reading regularly as it’s easy to slip into a reading slump when you get busy and stressed with uni or responsibilities, so I always try to have a book on the go and read a little whenever I can, even if all I can manage is a page here and there.”


There’s a sacrificial aspect to reading, too. Some things have to go, or you have to jam activities together. CW often blogs in the middle of the night when she has time, and uses her library Overdrive account to listen to free audiobooks when she’s on the bus. Sometimes I turn my phone off (off!) to read, or leave the room where it is, hovering malevolently. Sometimes I end conversations by saying that I have to go and read.


Miriam Hazelger studies Linguistics and Anthropology at Victoria University. She says that reading while studying is all about “frame of mind”—sometimes she can read 12 books in two months; at other times she might stop reading for six weeks. She says that reading has to be more than a vague goal: to actually make it happen, you need to actively choose it. “I think if you want to read, then you need to choose to read over doing other things—start small with a chapter before bed, and work up.”


Miriam tries to use the momentum from studying to propel her into recreational reading. “I think switching from reading notes to reading a book is easier then switching to a tv show, because I’m already in a similar mindset.”


Ella uses a similar tactic: “I try to study for a certain amount of time and then let myself read a chapter or two of whatever I’m reading—although this is a very slippery slope because if the book is really good it can be hard (and sometimes impossible lol) to pull yourself away!” One way to manage this is to break up your studying into chunks—’read one textbook chapter’ ‘begin an essay’ etc., and write these on Post-It tabs and intersperse them throughout the book you’re reading.


Making time to read is one thing; deciding what to read is another. CW says, “I think it’s important to ask yourself if you want to read and why you want to read. Do you enjoy it? Or do you want to read it just to say that you’ve read it? [The latter] may seem fun at first, but it’ll get old fast.” I can relate to this. Sometimes I, too, am infected by this urge and wade wanly through a worthy Booker winner or a tome about the Iranian economy. Ella suggests that the key to reading for fun is…actually reading for fun. “If you’re not enjoying a book, put it down and pick up another one or just have a break from reading! As a student, you haven’t got the time or energy to waste on pushing through a book you’re not enjoying.”


When anxiety consumes my mind, and the spectres of unread articles haunt my mind, I hold on to books. I hold on to the habit of books—a regularity in my life. I hold on to the reminder of books—that there are worlds beyond myself. And I hold on to the books themselves—the solidity of their pages (or the plastic case of my phone or e-reader), for those stretched and stolen moments when I do not just have to be myself.


You can too. It’s as easy as a library card, borrowing a book from a friend, or pressing play on an audiobook, and letting yourself be held by the words.


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