I vividly remember being nine years old, rummaging through my primary school’s tiny library. I had stumbled upon Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, unbeknownst to its place as the third book in the Harry Potter series, and picked it up, consuming it within hours of getting home. Consequently, I stormed through all seven books (albeit in a slightly unorthodox order), and so began the reading frenzy. Up until I was around 15, my life was consumed entirely by books.
And then one day, I just stopped. At first, I didn’t even notice, and at the time, I didn’t know why. In hindsight, however, I see clearly that my English Literature GCSE had a lot to do with it. Having to read the likes of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Lord of the Flies (two books that I was very unenthusiastic about studying), reading was no longer a hobby, and instead, a chore. I remember half-heartedly slogging through my set texts, furiously scribbling down annotations about the gothic setting and the ego when truthfully, I had no desire to study either book. Reading soon lost its charm and throughout my GCSEs, I made it clear that I was only going to read something if it was necessary for my exams.
After my GCSEs, I ended up taking English Literature A-Level which reignited, at least somewhat, my love of reading. Although I was still indifferent towards books like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which was a drudgery partially due to its doorstop-esque length, I found genuine enthusiasm in studying plays like Hamlet and A Streetcar Named Desire, and a great pleasure in critically analysing them.
Bam! Along came Covid, and suddenly, I was presented with a lot more free time. After tracing my fingers upon my dusty bookshelf, finding ways to pass the time, I found some old books from my former reading obsession and decided that if I was going to have any time to read, it would be now. This continued into 2021, when I had managed to read a whopping 112 books, and I’ve never looked back.
Now, it was a slightly different story after entering university. I no longer had copious amounts of free time and my degree demanded a lot of attention when it came to literature. Over my first two years at Oxford, I read over a dozen Italian novels, but I was still determined to keep up reading for fun. While it initially seemed impossible, I found ways of coping; during my long walks from St. Hugh’s, I’d put on an audiobook, or when I’d travel home to London, I’d always keep a novel in my bag for the train journey. For three years in a row, I’ve managed to read over 100 books, presenting it to myself as a challenge. I’d tell myself: “you couldn’t possibly beat last year’s book count!”, and somehow I always do.
Engaging in friendly competition with myself has definitely supplemented my interest in reading for pleasure, as well as regularly watching book reviews on YouTube or snooping around on Goodreads. A lot of my reading also took place over the vac, when I wasn’t so bound by essay deadlines, and I found great satisfaction in logging my progress into Goodreads. Even last year, I managed my personal best of 114.
Once I realised that reading for pleasure meant reading books that I actually want to, it became a lot more freeing. It sounds obvious now, but after many years of being forced to read literature that didn’t resonate with me, it felt like a massive revelation. So you’re telling me that I can just read a book because it’s fun, not because I have to worry about defacing it with every Stabilo highlighter on the planet? It is truly glorious. Personally, I think it’s impossible not to like reading; with the breadth of content out there, there will, without a doubt, be a book that speaks to you.