How do you balance reading for pleasure with work/grad school?
June 17, 2018 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Help this part time grad student and freelance journalist to balance reading for pleasure with work.

So I was a voracious reader as a child, read very little for pleasure through high school and university. I fell ill during my first master’s degree and had to drop out. I spent the next four reading A LOT. I’m now studying for a master’s degree through distance learning in a brand new field (switched from linguistics to an interdisciplinary law, anthropology, international relations degree). I am a freelance journalist on the side writing mainly on women’s rights issues and culture.

I enjoy my degree and work, but I MISS reading for pleasure. I’m still chronically ill so everything I do takes much longer and I find that I can’t study AND read or work AND read. And it bothers me because books got me through some very difficult times both emotionally and physically and reading is a very important part of self care for me.
posted by dostoevskygirl to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I feel this so much.

While doing a degree in classics, I was actually told to read less by an eye doctor! I'll spare you the details of that journey, but for long periods of time my reading of fiction was restricted by eyestrain and by research and grading. And fiction is a comfort, a happy place like nothing else really. So, I did dip into audio books while exercising and driving. It's absolutely not the same but it beats the hell out of nothing. Also, I got a tv and would watch movies. Luckily I enjoy poetry and have always memorized it, and that was a great help too. I gave a lot of thought to what it would be like being blind-- my father was at that time blind in one eye and would eventually become completely blind and he used all those substitutes too, and it was never the same. But your issue is more with getting time, so you probably don't have to think about all that.

A friend suggested I use the visual downtime to write more. Again, not really your issue I don't think, but that was when I started binge-writing fiction on planes and stuff, when I couldn't afford to arrive with eyestrain. Having a novel going on in your head is remarkably satisfying.
posted by BibiRose at 5:43 AM on June 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I went through a period when I was reading so much stuff for work (I'm in academia) that I didn't have the specific mental energy for fiction reading. I knitted instead, which I enjoy and which was a nice relaxing-but-satisfying downtime activity. But that was a relatively brief period, and I'm back to reading for pleasure since then. I also read a fair lot of interesting-to-me nonfiction for pleasure, which can be a real joy -- it feels different from reading fiction but it's fascinating in a nice way.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:23 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Set aside 10 minutes or so as you get in bed at night to read for pleasure. Make it a non-negotiable but also don’t worry right now about making more time than that 10-15 minutes. That is not a time when you would be doing quality work or study, so make it a time for self-care to do the thing that brings you joy (and also helps you wind down and transition from work-brain to sleep).

I have a chronic illness and work full-time and have a kid and realized I was Not Happy with the number of books I read last year. I don’t always make it happen (sometimes I’m asleep to quickly) but recognizing that nothing else useful will or should happen in that time was important in giving myself permission to take the time for reading.
posted by stefnet at 6:38 AM on June 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I *so* hear you.

I just got my phd in a reading-heavy humanities field. For the same reasons you outlined, I

1) got super into audiobooks. I'd listen when I'm out on my daily walks (necessary!!), when I cook, during the commute, etc.

2) make work reading pleasurable. I go to my favorite cafe or I make myself tea. YMMV.

3) read right before bed, as stefnet said, or in the bath/at the physiotherapist's when my back is killing me. For most of grad school I have been so exhausted that this amounts to maybe 1-2 pages. I got really into Lydia Davis' short stories for bed time reading for this reason.

Other things to consider:
1) I've also listened to work-related readings on apps like VoiceDream, or Mac's built-in text-to-speech. This saves my eyes and my time for fun reading, some times.

2) Depending on your discipline and its writing conventions, non-academic readings may very well help your study. I find my own writing significantly more fluid, precise, clear, and expressive in the immediate aftermaths of consuming the likes of Margaret Atwood, so I now consider that kind of reading a necessary brain primer when I'm having writing troubles.

3) Immediate after I finished my dissertation, I could. not. read. for about a month. Words just did not make any sense. I don't know why it happened, but it's not uncommon. Guess how I got back on the reading wagon? a couple of novels. You might consider fun reading a kind of preventative rehab.
posted by redwaterman at 7:16 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would read several books in the week after finals / finishing an intense period of work. I found I needed a lot of focus on the issues related to my studies and that before bed time is good for setting up your brain to chew on difficult problems. Sometimes unplugging enough to read was difficult for a few weeks, but I found /made periods with less work when I would devour books.
posted by momus_window at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be honest: I don't read for pleasure nearly as much, and when I do read for pleasure, it's generally "easy" reads. When I'm mentally tired, it's harder to stay focused - so books that are entertaining and I know I'll enjoy. So, no to Tolstoy, but yes to Terry Pratchett.

One thing that also helps is to have a set time for reading. I take a bath every day and I'll read in the bath instead of taking my phone in and listening to a podcast. You could also read right before bed; turn off work-related devices and read for half an hour. (I'd do this if I didn't have friends in a different time zone I could only chat with at this time.)

But also don't beat yourself up if you're reading less and try to set realistic goals that actually make you feel better. You don't want to get into the mindset that reading is more work. You just want to find a way to incorporate it into your day.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:37 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I basically didn’t, and it sucked for a few years, but now I have plenty of time and I’m making up for it.

When I did manage to find time, I mostly did “easy” reads like YA and comic books to give my brain a little bit of a break.

(Sometimes I’d srill check out books from the library knowing full well I wouldn’t have time to read them, but going to the library and browsing books after finishing my coursework still felt like a treat)

Good luck!
posted by nuclear_soup at 8:45 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm just wrapping up my first year of grad school (and hey, I also shifted from linguistics into a new field!), and I, too, continue to struggle to fit in any time for reading. Mine is almost exclusively in the bath - like Kutsuwamushi, I try to have a bath every day so I can fit in ~10 minutes of reading while still "achieving" something (ziploc bags are your friend if you read on an electronic device) - and, well, on the toilet. My poor books pretty much live in the bathroom these days. This means I've been getting through maybe 2 books every 10-week term, but even those small little moments of reading for pleasure have felt good for me so I'll take it.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:21 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I, too, had a similar experience in grad school. Worse yet, some of the books I would have read for pleasure were also books I read for my masters (and still are). I also have a chronic illness, now a full-time job and don't read as much as I would like, but I try to schedule myself into it - an actual recurring reminder to read even for 20 minutes before bed has been really helpful.
posted by sm1tten at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Most of my grad school pleasure reading time was while I was out in the field - I felt too guilty to do much reading when I felt that stack of other things to do. That wasn't healthy, and I wish I'd set aside 10-15 minutes at night to read before sleep. One thing I've started doing is taking an hour or two on a weekend day to go to a green space if it's nice, or a coffee shop or library or museum of it's not, and turn off my phone, and read. Like many others, this isn't heavy duty Good For You reading, but it's nice and relaxing.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:01 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm 100% serious about this: read for pleasure in the bathroom.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:24 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Doing this right now, as a FT journalist, PT online grad student who graduates in December. The audiobook/podcast suggestion is a good idea. I sometimes try to schedule a short period of time before bed for pleasure reading, even 15 minutes helps. I also like to read short, internet essays or short fiction stories. Many short stories can be read in 30 minutes or less. Short stories, due to their length, have to be less complicated, which is helpful if you're looking for something low stress.
posted by greatalleycat at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Glad to see I’m not the only one to have just given up on long form fiction entirely during my PhD. Some of my grad student colleagues read a lot of novels, and I’m always impressed, but I’m just not wired that way.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:39 PM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did a lot of re-reading and reading of really breezy genre fiction during my masters. I didn't really have the mental energy, but wanted a novel on the go to have that emotional benefit / self care component that you speak of. Reaching for stuff I already knew was really comforting and I still felt like I had "something to read" for pleasure and relaxation, that still felt doable and not in competition with my school and work reading. There have been some good AskMe questions about comfort reads!
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:57 PM on June 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I did my undergrad at a school with a reputation for having an intense, intense reading load, and I definitely suffered when it came to reading for pleasure. I read a lot of short stories on public transit because they were low commitment and I wouldn't lose my place if I had to go weeks or months without picking up a book again. I think I read everything George Saunders ever wrote. Everything else was exceedingly light and easy (as snorkmaiden's comment reminded me), which made for quick reading without a ton of mental energy. I can also second reading in the bathroom, which I used to feel funny about, but whatever, fuck it, it's my time. It worked because I decided that reading journal articles in the bathroom was a line I didn't want to cross, haha.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:05 AM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hello. It me. (Different major and day job, but still.)

Audio books were nice enough in the car, but if you're not huge into audio books, I found that short story collections were EXCELLENT for keeping up with fun reading. Psychologically, I found finishing successions of short, complete stories satisfying in the same way as finishing a book with the added benefit that they didn't stress me out when I saw how much more I had left to go.

What also helped me fit in more reading was downloading my library's e-book reader app and borrowing a lot of books through there. That way I could read a few pages while waiting in line, eating lunch, or just killing some time and it was more convenient than remembering to bring an e-reader or physical book.

I am also in a book club, and even when it wasn't a book I would have picked for myself, it was still nice to have a goal to stick with and to know that at least I read ONE non-textbook or article this past month.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

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