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Reflections on a PhD in Literature: Reading for Fun

[This is Part 3 of Reflections on a PhD in Literature. Read Part 1: The Basics and Part 2: What it Takes. See also the short speech at the Rutgers’ School of Graduate Studies Convocation by the author as the student speaker of the event.]

A lot of my friends have talked about rediscovering the joy of reading after finishing the PhD. I get what they mean, at least in part; I’m able to read a lot more widely now than I’m finished. But I don’t blame academic analysis for impeding my ability to read for fun. Even before going to graduate school, I enjoyed reading good theory and criticism on my own time as much as fiction (that’s less a humble-brag than an admission that whatever is wrong with me just happens to be right for grad school). Instead, I think that what made recreational reading more difficult (albeit not impossible) was the amorphous and self-directed quality of graduate work, which meant that all the time that I had the attention and intellectual bandwidth to read was directed towards “work time” and “work reading” rather than leisure. During longer breaks from work, whether that was a trip to the beach or visiting my parents over the holidays, after a couple days of pure vegetation I’d still find myself craving, and enjoying, a good book just for fun. For instance, I recall reading the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy over one winter break while dissertating. (Tenured professors have their not-so-guilty pleasures too: Columbia professor Jenny Davidson shares her own light reading on her blog, including a love of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers.) A little variety in one’s reading diet is sometimes just the ticket for shaking up the mindset of viewing reading as work, and rediscovering the pleasure it can offer when isolated from the pressure to perform.

Finally, being involved in this project for the past few years has been an important excuse for recreational reading on my part, and a welcome opportunity to reflect on what non-required reading is like and is for, at a time when required reading was threatening to take over my entire reading diet! To all the Summer Tales participants who shared their own love of reading with us, to library colleagues who made this project possible and contributed in so many ways, to Judit for conceiving it in the first place: thank you. I’m still figuring out what comes next, but it’s been a privilege and a joy to spend some of my time at Rutgers with you all, working––and reading––together.

Below are some of my favorite posts I’ve written while here:

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