Why does everyone who studies English hate reading?

It’s their only real skill


Nothing amazes me more than when another English student talks about reading as though it’s a massive effort.

The classic vacuous exchange goes something like this: “What you up to tonight mate?” “Oh I have to read this crap for my English tutorial tomorrow.”

This is form picked up from those who study different humanities – your psychology students, your philosophy students, the ones who see reading as something they have to do or they’ll get ripped on by their irritated tutor the next day in front of the rest of their sniggering tutorial group.

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“This is one of my favourites!”- Josh is especially fond of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘A Handful of Dust’

There’s a reason your nan asks you what you “plan on reading at university dear”. It’s because you’re expected to actually do some reading. The clue’s in the name, English Literature – Literature – not “English half-arsed skimming of Sparknotes ten minutes before tutorial time”.

And here’s a thought for you. If everyone did their reading then there’d be none of those awkward silences. No painful moments where your tutor is forced to re-enact scenes from Ferris Bueller – “does anyone know why Wordsworth likes nature so much? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?”

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At the same time I have to admit that a lot of the time English tutors couldn’t set drier texts to read if they tried. No one really cares about Gaelic ballads, no one wants to read Medieval poems that stretch the definition of English to the point where it has to be accompanied by a translation.

So why don’t you read in your own time? Instead of complaining about how bad the books you have to read are, why don’t you read something pleasurable? English students who don’t find reading fun are like History of Art students who don’t like looking at art. It doesn’t make any sense.

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And don’t say that you don’t have enough time to read or that you get set enough work as it is. If you’ve got enough time to Netflix and chill, you’ve got enough time to read a couple chapters of a book. Stop scrolling through your Facebook feed and use your time productively. If it’s technology you crave get a Kindle.

What’s more it just seems like a massive waste of your own time. It’s not like when a Medic doesn’t like dissecting bodies or when an Engineer doesn’t enjoy drawing bridges. They’re gaining a skill set and ultimately they’re going to make a decent bit of money with those skills.

If you’re not reading, what are they teaching you? English students leave university not really sure whether they’ve gained a skill set or even if the £9,000 a year was worth it.

You’re also making life a lot harder for those who do love reading. In 2009 the Higher Education Statistics Agency  found that since 2003 there had been over a 60 per cent increase in students in Britain taking literature courses. Being accepted onto literature courses in this country is getting harder. So if you don’t enjoy reading do everyone else a favour and do economics instead – none of them are really sure what they like either.

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On the lighter side of things reading is always a pleasurable experience once you get down to it. I spoke to student favourite English lecturer Jonathan Wild who called reading “a useful palate cleansing experience” and said it was truly an “escapist thing”. While Wild admitted that there seemed to be more distractions for students these days he had to admit that it seemed “rather unusual for there to be English students who want to write but not read”.

“Literature is not a science, pleasure is very much at the bottom of it. Pleasure in education was something that used to be looked down upon but really pleasure should be central. It’s the same for TV as it is for books, it’s a conversation piece and engages the critical faculties.”

Don’t get me wrong, the majority of English students love to read but it’s the ones that don’t that are letting the side down. They’re the reason people sniff at you when you tell them what you study, they’re the reason people ask why you chose to do a subject “that’s not really going to get you anywhere”.

I’m not saying you need to read War and Peace when you get home from lectures. Just read something.