How My Degree Made It Impossible to Enjoy Casual Reading Anymore

I participated in a few hours of the Dewey Read-A-Thon last month.  Sitting around reading for hours is somehow less appealing when the weather is nice, but it was also relaxing to spend some time reading with friends, with a small stack of books, tea & biscuits, strawberries, and fresh-baked muffins all on hand.  There were even a couple cats!

I’m glad I brought multiple books, though, because I’m still working on “North & South” and occasionally it’s downright boring.  I read all of “Eternals” and made some more progress in “Insurgent” (is it normal to want to slap Tris?), but overall, other than the food and the good company, reading that much felt kind of like a chore.

I’m choosing to blame this on my creative writing degree.

1. Every book review turns into an essay. I can’t just say whether or not I liked something – I have to detail what I liked (or didn’t) and why. Then I end up with blog essays about “Mists of Avalon” or sprawling Goodreads reviews about “The Second Duchess.”

2. I criticize books that I normally read for fun.  I feel like I should be able to keep my expectations low enough to enjoy something like “The Hunger Games,” “Legend,” or “Divergent” without putting too much thought into it.  They’re young-adult books, for crying out loud, but no – everything from the first-person present-tense perspective to the fragments to the unpredictable characterization suddenly jumps out at me and refuses to let me enjoy the book.

And “Requiem!” I really enjoyed “Delirium” and I’ve been telling all my friends to read it – but I’m finally on the final book of the trilogy, and suddenly it’s all love triangle all the time.  And I hate love triangles.  I’m never able to sympathize with characters who get caught in them, no matter how well-written they are.

Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books are the same way.  I enjoyed them in high school, but now for some reason I notice how every character has the same voice and the characterization is either shallow or beat-your-head-against-a-wall overdone and the concepts are really just kind of silly sometimes.

3. Racism and privilege everywhere.  Sometimes – probably often – I read into things too much.  For example, the lone black protagonist in “Beautiful Creatures” is basically a voodoo priestess.  Is this bad?  Is it even an issue?  The whole book is about witches in the deep South, so it’s not really unusual that she practices magic – what’s unusual is that her form of magic requires blood sacrifices made out on the swamp.  It struck me as stereotypical and off-putting…but maybe it was just me.

There’s also the opposite affect of making it hard to enjoy works by white male writers.  Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” was one I’d really been looking forward to reading because I love England and snarky memoirs – but the book sounded like a lot of elitist, sexist navel-gazing.  Would I have thought so if I’d read it before attending a liberal-arts college?  Who knows.

Have you noticed your reading preferences changing?  What books did you used to enjoy but one day couldn’t stand?  Which did you initially dislike, but revisited and decided you actually enjoyed?

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3 thoughts on “How My Degree Made It Impossible to Enjoy Casual Reading Anymore

  1. I hear ya! For a while I dabbled with the idea of getting a Literature Degree but I was too afraid it would forever turn me off reading, so I didn’t get the degree. The down side, though, is that now I’m not really sure I know what I’m talking about when I review anything. And I feel woefully under-read compared to many die-hard readers who have been at it since they were kids. My advice? Keep some aspect of the academic in your reviews, but maybe start them off with how did the book make you feel.

    As for #2 – My inner critic goes crazy when I read YA, and really, it shouldn’t, because, YA! Right? The stories can be refreshingly straightforward and cover some pretty interesting ground. But, alas. I don’t enjoy that first-person present-tense. I’m also not a fan of alternating perspectives, but that’s not just YA. The up-side to all this is that my fickle tastes push me to try things I might not otherwise try and thus discover book-love in the most unlikely places.

    #3 – This is hard for me to reconcile too. I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction lately so I’m in full-cringe mode while witnessing the casual racism and classism of the time. Ugh! How was this ever normal? It was abhorrent.

    As for Bill Bryson, that book Notes From A Small Island was my least favourite of his.

    I try and take my changing tastes in stride. There are so many books to choose from so it’s all good, I think.

    • I like Goodreads’ review system because it specifically rates how much you enjoyed a book, not how good you thought it was. It’s hard to separate sometimes!

      Maybe I will try more Bryson…I know he’s covered a ton of subjects, so I’ll keep an eye out!

  2. I think about this sometimes–I definitely wouldn’t say my lit degree has ruined casual reading for me, since I read ALL THE TIME, but it’s just changed and (I think) enhanced the way I interface with books. My thinking-critically brain isn’t usually going at full speed 24/7, but I AM way more likely to stop and engage with my thoughts on a more conscious level if I notice that something’s bothering me; like, I’m reading Cold Magic right now, and something about it was bugging me, and I realized that the “lyrical” prose feels really overdone to me, to the point of losing clarity and making the action less understandable. Not good!

    If #3 starts to bother me a lot about a book, I have to think about it and decide if the upset feelings I’m having about the problematic parts of the book completely ruin the experience of reading it, or if I’m okay to continue. I was upset by the fatphobic elements of The Girl of Fire and Thorns–sure, I was excited that the main character is a fat, dark-skinned POC woman, but her personal growth and increasing confidence in herself is marked also by simultaneous weight-loss–so I’m not okay with that part of it, but lots of other elements of the book mean that I’m still willing to think of my experience reading the book as mostly positive, and I’m willing to read the sequel to see if the main character’s journey with her body ends up in a place that I’m more comfortable with. I do have to remind myself sometimes that it’s okay to like something that has problematic elements, so long as you acknowledge those elements, engage with them, and think critically about what could be different. I enjoy being critical of fiction that I love; it usually means that I have high expectations of the creator, and that I think that improvement is possible. It’s just a different way of reading.

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