Like Matt Barnum (“Where Reading Comes to Die,” 11/6/09), I’m painfully aware of the gap between the amount I read and the amount of reading required by my self-concept. But unlike Matt, I don’t think this gap can be blamed on the workload at Chicago. There’s simply too much time in the day for homework to ever eclipse reading for pleasure. Take the astronomical figure of 10 hours of academic work per day. You still have 14 hours of free time at your disposal. Now say you devote 40 minutes of those 14 hours to reading for pleasure, and say also that you’re a slow reader, so 40 minutes equals about 15 pages. At 15 pages a night, you could finish War and Peace in just under three months.
Get a short story or fiction podcast (free on iTunes) and “read” while you walk to and from campus. Or buy an audiobook. Open the The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction in between skimming turgid ruminations on the public sphere. Put Alice Munro on your pillow and leave Jhumpa Lahiri open by the toaster. You might even, as a last resort, take an English class. What you may find is that these small routines have a twofold inertia: First, the routines become automatic and easy to maintain, like showering or eating (surely there isn’t too much homework for those things?). And second, once the routine has gotten you past the first few chapters of a book, it becomes very natural to finish it, and the routine is no longer needed. Reading for pleasure is only impossible if you never bother to do it.
Class of 2010