“You read for fun?” one of my friends asked me recently when she saw me sitting in Paresky with my nose in a book. I nodded my head, indicating yes. “But how do you
have time?” she asked.
There’s not an easy answer to that question. Like all of us here, I almost always have assigned material to read through and (hopefully) understand for class. I spend a lot of my day keeping track of which readings I have done and which readings I still have to do. My syllabi dictate a large amount of what I read at the College and tell me when to read it. So I suppose it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that I always have something that I should, or at the very least could, be reading.
in part a feature of being any kind of student at any level: Many, if not most, educational projects are connected in some way to literacy and communication via the written word. Being able to read grants me (and you, reader!) access to vast stores of knowledge encoded in printed language. Academic institutions like the College ask their students to immerse themselves in texts, because, to put it simply, reading
a lot is a good way to learn a lot about any subject.
The trick as a student, at least for me, is to remember how to connect the volume of my academic work (the “reading a lot”) with the purpose of my academic work (the “learning a lot”). To put it another way, when I have a lot to read for class, I sometimes lose track of why I should read it and wonder if reading for class is something that I actually want to do. This feeling becomes particularly acute during those assessment-heavy periods of the academic year when the due dates for papers and problem sets and exams and lab reports and presentations follow one after the other. These assignments often ask us to tease out what the material we discussed in class or the experiment we performed in lab mean, but they less frequently ask us to figure out where we find meaning in the work.
So how do we, as students at the College, find meaning in our work? Maybe the answer is to find a way to invert the question: How do we find work that has meaning to us as students at the College?
In posing this question, I do not mean to suggest that there is one way to find work that has meaning, or even that there is one type of work that has meaning. In fact, my point is the opposite: There are infinitely many types of work that can carry infinitely many types of meaning for us. The ability to recognize if your work fulfills you, and to seek out work that means something to you, is perhaps one of the hardest things to learn how to do. And yet, I would argue, discovering areas where meaning and work converge for you is one of the most important skills you can develop.
Finding academic and nonacademic sites where meaning and work overlap helps remind me what I enjoy about life here at the College. For me, reading has been a site where I encounter meaning both with and without the structure of classwork. Reading for class introduces me to an array of ideas that often produce seismic shifts in how I understand myself and the world. But, much in the same way, reading for myself, for fun, allows me to curate my engagement with texts independently of external expectations. If reading for class provides me an opportunity to find meaning in assigned work, then reading for myself serves as the arena for unearthing work that has meaning to me. Both types of reading facilitate my growth as a student and as a person. Keeping a balance between the two helps me remember why I like reading and, by extension, why I like learning.
As students at the College, choosing texts to read for fun – be they news articles or tweets or novels or status updates or music reviews – is a way we can create spaces where personal meaning and intellectual work intersect. And that, I suppose, is why I read for fun.
Kirsten Lee ’16 is from Detroit, Mich. She lives in Agard.