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Making reading for pleasure pleasurable

After spending an entire day in the library, the last thing I want to do to relax is more reading. And that’s if I can even fit it into my packed term-time schedule. But in 2024, my New Year’s Resolution is to read more pleasurable books. I want to find time to make reading relaxing again, and enjoy some books off my rather long TBR list. After being a bit too optimistic with my 2023 Goodreads Challenge, 2024 is going to be the year where I repair my relationship with books. But I’m also going to be realistic: studying at Oxford is a jam-packed lifestyle, and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

For humanities students like me, low contact hours and high library hours are the norm. Whilst we may have loved reading as a child, for many it is no longer relaxing:reading has become  irrevocably associated with work. But I remember going to the local library in the summer holidays when I was younger, selecting the next book in the series I was reading, and then reading it all day on my bedroom floor. I remember not being able to put my book down, reading at my meals (which I was not allowed to do), and staying up past my bedtime because I just had to know what happened next. I remember reading being relaxing and fun, and that’s something I want again.

But the big problem for me is that I don’t feel like reading when I’ve finished work for the day. I don’t find it relaxing any more. In term-time, I typically read one book, if any. So how can reading become pleasurable again?

Firstly, I am being less ambitious in 2024. Although I’d love to read War and Peace, this year I’m sticking to shorter books in simpler prose. I’m going to be reading contemporary fiction by bestselling authors of the last few years rather than enormous classic tomes, and I’m going to keep my pleasurable reading well within fiction. I do love non-fiction, but for now that’s going to be reserved for my degree.

Secondly, I am going to listen to more audiobooks. The great thing about them  is that they can be free: I use BorrowBox with my membership to Oxfordshire County Library, and there are lots to choose from. It’s also good that you have a deadline, which motivates me to finish books. I’m planning to listen to audiobooks as I wander around Oxford this term, especially on my half-hour walk into town in the mornings (an advantage of living further out!).

Finally, I’m going to set aside some time specifically for reading. The time I currently spend scrolling through TikTok could certainly be reduced. I want to hear “put your book down” again, not “young people spend all their time on their phones these days”. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a phone, but I think I will find reading to be more relaxing than the information-overload provided by my device.

Reading can be hard in the 21st century, where we have been conditioned to have short attention spans in order to process the vast amount of information available to us. Social media is much more attention-grabbing than reading, and movies and television more fast-paced; in this environment it can be difficult to keep going with a book, especially when they are slower or have sections which are perhaps less engaging. But I think that’s what I need to relax. Maybe that’s what we all need. I’m now nearly halfway through my degree at Oxford, and it sometimes feels as though I have hardly stopped moving or thinking since I arrived. I want to slow the pace of everything around me as I read.

It is entirely possible that 2024 will be another year where I do not meet my Goodreads goal–100 books last year was way off the mark. But that’s okay. I want to read for fun, not for the sake of hitting a target. So much about life when you’re studying is about achieving, and I just want reading to be about enjoyment. I will have succeeded if I have made reading for pleasure pleasurable again.

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