Reading for Fun as a College Student

This was my living room my final year in Eugene. That bookshelf next to the fireplace is one of two sets of books: this one the "fun set." I had another whole bookshelf dedicated to text books and "serious books" of various kinds. And yes, that is an entire shelf of Stephen King there at the bottom.

I’m sure you could have guessed already that I’m something of a book lover. A full-blown bibliophile/book-nerd would be the more accurate description. I have loved books my whole life, and have read piles of them over the years. Old acquaintances from late elementary/early middle school could attest to my days walking around the hallways with my nose in a book. One of the first times I remember being in trouble as a student was in 5th grade, when my teacher caught me with my novel propped up inside the larger hardcover history text. I was apologetic and horrified to be caught, but then (as now), I argued that since I had already finished the assignment, that in-class reading time should be my own.

That same spirit has stuck with me over the years. For those who truly love reading for pleasure, college can be a bit of a shock to the system as they suddenly have to re-calibrate all the reading they would like to be doing with the reading they have to be doing. Sometimes, of course, these will overlap: some assigned readings have proven to be life-changing texts for me, and ones I have carried with me and re-read over the years. But depending on your speed of reading and the sometimes overwhelming quantity of reading assignments, you might find yourself at something of a deficit for free time for reading in college. I hope not, but you might.

I am one of those people who believe that reading is a necessity for healthy and balanced living. It relaxes and inspires me more than almost any other activity. Certainly more than TV or a movie, which, unless spent in the company of friends, is just more time spent by myself behind yet another screen.

I’m one of those people who goes absolutely nuts in a library, pulling stacks of books off the shelves and paging through them before receiving disbelieving looks from librarians and adding a fresh set to the already-teetering pile of aspiring “next reads” beside my bed. I love the sense of potential in a book I’ve never read before, and I love the old friends quality in an old standby when I settle in to re-read again.

Books helped me form who I am and how I see the world. Science fiction, literary fiction, nonfiction, sociological theory, philosophy, horror, poetry, classics, memoir, fantasy, and even the occasional advice/self-help kind of book. I do not love all books. But I love a broad spectrum of books, and the vicarious adventures contained within their pages.

This passion didn’t change when I went to college.

My freshman year, I used to bring a stack of books upstairs to my friends’ dorm room to do homework in the evenings (this being prompted by the hostile environment with my roommate, as previously mentioned). I would work through the next day’s assigned reading or do some research for an upcoming essay. Then, when work was finished and in between long conversations with my friends, I would read my novels.

These were happy, peaceful islands of time in the midst of my busy university life.

Since 2004, I have kept track of the books I read. I’ve previously mentioned that I’m a big believer in writing things down—everything from journaling to manic list making to note-taking on the new semester’s syllabus. I also write down the books I read. I wish I’d begun this habit when I was much younger, but I suppose I’m grateful for the years I have recorded. For almost ten years now I have recorded nearly every book I read (I think a few have slipped through the cracks now and then, but for the most part they’re all present and accounted for). Here are my arbitrary rules for tracking my reading:

  • To count, a book must be read cover to cover. No partial credit.
  • Previously read books DO count.
  • Assigned reading/homework DOES count.
  • Books on tape DO count.
  • Children’s books do not count, although the old favorites in the young adult genre do.

My passion for reading started a long, long time ago. Thanks, Mom!

This is not a competition. Well…not anymore, anyway. When I first started keeping track my mom and I would race and there were a couple of years when I was reading frantically up to New Year’s Eve, trying to get in a final tally before the year ticked over and the list began again. I think she beat me most years.

2006 was my senior year of high school/freshman year of college. Although I had the leisure of a long, long summer (Colorado high schools graduate early, the University of Oregon is a really late starter), I was also at one of the busiest times of my life between AP classes my senior year and all the settling-in work of the first year of college.

I read 140 books in 2006

That year I read Malcolm Gladwell, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (for what must have been the 7th or 8th time), the Epic of Gilgamesh, Anne Lamott, Jon Stewart’s America (The Book), several poetry anthologies, Jonathan Safran Foer, a ridiculous quantity of Stephen King, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, and a series of “comfort reads” from my teenaged years—from Tamora Pierce to Gary Paulson. 2006 was a great year for books.

That year, when I was in a particular period of stress and transition, was a particularly voracious time for reading.

I guess the point of this blog post is to just say that being in college does not have to mean you stop reading.

My reading has slowed down since the bumper crop of 2006. What eventually calmed my appetite to a certain extent was when I began to travel. Then I discovered podcasts. After that I took on more leadership roles on campus and in community volunteering. The year I graduated, 2010, I read only 77 books. But those books helped me through my internships, thesis writing, graduate school applications, and all the everyday stress and drama of roommates, jobs, and relationships.   

College is hard. I encourage you to nurture practices that feed your mind and energy. If it happens to be reading, then find the time to allow yourself the luxury of reading for fun. Whatever genre that happens to be, know that it’s worth the time you spend allowing you imagination to roam and your creative self to be nurtured by another person’s storytelling.

And if you happen to enjoy participating in another person’s reading, here are two options. One is a cool blog by my friend (and previous guest post writer) Miles Raymer, who shares near-daily interesting quotes from the books he’s reading in the “words” section of his blog Words and Dirt.

Another option is to follow my ongoing list of the books I’m reading in 2014. You can check in with my progress, make comments, and (please!) suggestions. No anxiety or judgment allowed. Reading for pleasure should be just that. It so happens that Charles Dickens and Stephen King both serve that purpose for me.


What do you read for pleasure? Do you read more or less when the stresses of life build up?  I love hearing people’s reading rituals—do you have a place you love to read, or a particular time of the day? Where do you go to find the books on your “to read” pile? Please leave your comments, stories, recommendations, and questions here.