Printed on a pair of socks in Labyrinth Bookstore is “so many books, so little time.” It’s a cute, positive sentiment: when you love books, the pile to read seems endless and exciting. But when I passed it last week, the phrase hit home differently.
Like many other students, I’ve loved books for a while. Throughout high school, I was always in the middle of a book, picking one up after I’d put another down. I tried to make sure I was reading just for the sake of it, attending book clubs and book festivals. When I came to Princeton as a prospective English major, I thought it’d be a dream — I’d be reading more than ever.
But it was only last week that I realized I hadn’t read a book for fun since coming to college. I felt so chased by all the reading I had to do for classes, and when I briefly thought of finding another book on my own, I didn’t really know where to start. I wanted to read something worthwhile but hadn’t kept up with releases or reviews. I asked myself the question that a lot of students seem to echo: “if I barely had time to read before, why would I ever start now?” I hadn’t realized how draining academic reading can be. To constantly be analyzing, searching, or even skimming works to meet a deadline can change your feelings toward reading in general. After a month and a half, it was already starting to feel like a chore.
The environment and resources at Princeton don’t help much either. Readings for classes can swallow up hours and hours of time and require constant skimming. But it’s not just the academic reality; the libraries themselves are not encouraging of leisure reading. Even in Firestone, contemporary fiction books are located at the lowermost level and the labels are not easily identifiable and accessible by the author's last name. Unless someone was deliberately looking for a certain novel, it’s rare that they’d find themselves browsing the shelves. Moreover, there are not many copies of each book, even current bestsellers, and many are only available for a three hour loan at the circulation desk.
These conditions can make it difficult or completely unthought of to try and read for fun. But at an institution like Princeton, an essential part of a great education should be the sincere appreciation for culture and literature. Our college experience should provide and encourage ways to continue learning and growing in the future. At the core, that’s what reading does. It provides a chance to engage in a new world, soak in a new feeling, and, at the very least, spend an afternoon focused and fulfilled by the simple joy of stories.
It’s easy to feel like there are so many other things going on in these four years; why would anyone add reading for fun to the list? More than anything, it’s incredibly liberating. You don’t have to critique or write about a text; you can just simply enjoy it the way it was written. It’s a reminder that part of the reason we read is to feel and to explore, not just to absorb and understand knowledge. In a whirlwind of requirements and responsibilities, reading in your own time can also be a rare act you do for its own sake. You get to choose to treat yourself with the literature you want to read; these books might be more meaningful and life-changing than anything you read in class.
Three new books now sit on my shelf; I don’t know when I’ll finish them, I don’t know if I necessarily will. But the important thing is I get to choose. Time I spend reading feels exhilarating and relaxing again, however “little” it may be.
Kate Lee is a first-year from Austin, Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.