Avoiding Book Burnout as an English Major

Recently someone asked me in a comment how I avoid burning out as an English major–in other words, how do I keep from getting sick of reading? It might sound implausible that a bookworm could get tired of reading, but it definitely happens. When the line between work and play is blurred, it can suddenly feel like what was once a hobby is now homework–because it is. 

For each term at Oxford I had to read about sixteen novels, plus secondary reading during term itself. For my senior seminar at Wheaton right now I have to read about a dozen novels by Philip Roth–and that’s in addition to all the reading for my other English class, history class, and Honors Thesis. Needless to say, studying English literature involves a lot of reading. When you consider the sheer amount of pages being turned, it’s easy to imagine how someone could want to do something else in their sparse free time besides open even more books. 

So how do I avoid burning out? Here’s my advice:

Switch things up.

One of the problems I’ve encountered studying English literature is that the genre I would usually read for fun (classics) is precisely when I have to read for class. Instead, I try reading different genres, particularly children’s or young adult books. Because they’re different enough from what I read for class, my mind isn’t so quick to associate it with doing work.

Listen to audio books.

Listening to audio books is my favorite way to get extra reading in during the semester without feeling like I’m doing more work. I love not having to feel like I’m spending even more time with my eyes glued to a page, as well as the fact that I can get other things done (like laundry, cleaning, etc.) at the same time).

Make it social.

Join a book club. Read the same book as a friend. Be more active in the book blogging community. Sometimes adding a more social aspect to reading helps it feel less like homework and more like something you’re doing in your precious free time.

Take a break.

Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that bookish burnout is unavoidable without taking a bit of a break from reading for fun. Whenever I feel this tiredness coming on, I usually switch to listening to podcasts, knitting, or some other activity instead. Taking a break from reading doesn’t make you a “bad” bookworm in any way–partially because such a category doesn’t exist. There’s no denying that the reading you do for class is still reading, even if it’s not what you would choose to read on your own.

I hope these quick pieces of advice are helpful! Studying English literature can be surprisingly tricky for self-proclaimed bookworms, and it’s nice to know that it’s not just you falling out of love with reading–sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. 

How do you avoid burning out as an English major or college student in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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How I Came to Study English in College (and why I stayed that way)

A few months ago someone commented on one of my blog posts asking if I could write about how I came to study English literature in college. Since my second to last semester of college begins in just two days, I thought now would be a good time to finally answer this question.

Growing up, English was always my favorite subject in school. I hesitate to say that it was my favorite class; unfortunately, English class was often viewed as a bit of a joke, particularly in high school. It wasn’t viewed as a “real” subject worth studying; instead, English class was merely another requirement, an easy class used to boost people’s GPAs. I hated this negative, deceiving, false stigma associated with studying English. This stigma is partly why I started blogging in high school in the first place. I wanted an outlet where I could discuss books without being viewed as strange or being told that I was wasting my time on something that didn’t matter.

You can imagine what people thought when I told them that I wanted to major in English literature in college. This pill was made a bit easier to swallow by the fact that I later wanted to go to law school (phew! people undoubtedly thought. Some practical light at the end of the liberal arts tunnel!) The puzzled glances I received astounded me. What was so bad about studying English?

Then came the inevitable question: Did I want to be a teacher? While there is nothing wrong with being a teacher–it’s one of the most important jobs, in my opinion–it frustrated me that people could only see one path for my future. When I told them I wanted to pursue a career in law, their eyes grew even wider. Most of them said they couldn’t picture me as an attorney–that I wasn’t cutthroat enough, competitive enough, or loud enough. (I don’t know when they started measuring one’s volume on the LSAT, but apparently these people were privy to secret information that I wasn’t). One day while I was checking an old man’s book out at the local library where I worked, he helpfully reminded me that “You have to be smart to be a lawyer, you know.” Fortunately, one of my coworkers stood up for me, chiming in with a generous “Oh, Holly doesn’t have to worry about that.”

But his comment bothered me, and in some way still does. Why did studying English automatically categorize me as a particular kind of person in the eyes of so many people? What gave people the impression that teaching was not only the sole profession that English majors could choose, but that it was also the sole profession that we should choose? What was it about this specific subject that closed its students off from all other occupational pursuits?

However, my time in college as well as my experience holding various job positions has taught me that those people in my high school who held these negative opinions lack any understanding of what it is actually like to study English literature. I like to split my degree into two parts: content and skills. When people look down upon English majors, they often do so by emphasizing the content aspect of the degree. What use is knowledge of obscure books that only other English majors ever read? Who cares what Jane Austen or William Faulkner had to say in their novels? While this view is inherently false in its own right for reasons I’m sure most bookworms understand, it also completely disregards the other half of English degrees.

My favorite aspect of my English degree (and the part that I value most) is that it teaches me how to think critically, work with large amounts of information at once, organize my thoughts, form and defend evidence-based arguments, and write. These are valuable, practical, marketable skills that have served me well in nearly all courses, internships, and jobs I’ve experienced. Although these skills happen to be applied to English literature while earning the degree, they can be applied to any and all contexts: historical texts, financial grant applications, social media pages, etc. I truly believe that the ability to write well is a priceless skill—just ask all of the friends, coworkers, and family members who ask me to edit their writing on a regular basis.

To answer the reader’s initial question, I chose to study English literature in college because reading and writing have always been passions of mine. However, I think a more interesting and important question is why I’ve continued to be an English major after so many people have advised me otherwise. The answer: because I believe the degree offers valuable skills that are essential for my professional success.

What are your thoughts on studying English literature in college? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to Pair with Classics

Happy Tuesday!! August is coming to a close, which means it’s time to start thinking about going back to school. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is back-to-school themed, which means I’ve decided to focus on classic literature. Classics definitely get a bad reputation from required reading lists in classrooms; however, I think looking at parallels between classic and contemporary literature help demonstrates how books from the past influence what we read and write in the present. Here are ten classic couples to check out!

I’m thinking of starting a series of posts in which I go into more detail about some of these pairs. There are so many parallels between classic and contemporary literature!

What books would you pair with some of your favorite classics? What do you think of the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

My Problem with Shakespeare | Discussion

Confession: I don’t particularly like Shakespeare.

Usually when I tell people I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare I receive a piercing glare and a disapproving “Really?” This conversation inevitably results in me trying to defend my opinions while undergoing intense scrutiny from the opposing party. Apathy towards the Bard was the norm when I was in high school, but people’s expectations seemed to change as soon as I entered college. Some people apparently view being an English major and a Shakespeare enthusiast as characteristics that always go hand in hand, as though one cannot be the former without also identifying as the latter.

I hate that this stereotype of English majors exists. Though I love British authors like Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, I’m actually much more interested in American Literature than British literature. Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin– these are the writers that fascinate me and make my little English major heart beat with bookish excitement. However, whenever I hear Shakespeare mentioned I can’t help but let out a little sigh of indifference.

The core of the problem is that I haven’t connected with Shakespeare’s works emotionally or deeply in any way. None of his plays have ever resonated with me personally like other texts often do. Does this come from my general disinterest in the time period? Or maybe it stems from the way I was taught to read Shakespeare in high school without actually seeing his plays performed? Whatever the reason, I find it difficult to empathize with his characters. For instance, Romeo and Juliet frustrated me endlessly with their impulsive decisions, melodrama, and plain foolishness. (Juliet, girl, you knew him for mere days!!)

Sometimes I feel like I’m missing the point of Shakespeare. I tend to take his works seriously and often literally when they’re probably meant to be comedic, ironic, sarcastic, or satiric. It’s probably safe to say that the Bard didn’t support the rash decision of the star-crossed lovers to give up their lives for one another; instead, he was probably trying to show how dramatic, emotional, and intense young love can be. (Never mind the fact that it makes for a really entertaining story.) I’m just not good at picking up on Shakespeare’s humor, which means that most of his works tend to fall flat for me. I completely recognize that this is an individual preference and I’m certainly not blaming Shakespeare for my inability to understand his intent– I just don’t the process of trying to figure it out!

I don’t mean to say that I hate Shakespeare’s works; rather, I’m sort of indifferent to them. Sometimes they’re enjoyable and entertaining, whereas other times I’m counting down the pages until I can close the play for good. However, I can say that I’ve recently gained a greater appreciation for his skill with language as well as his significant contributions to English literature in general. I still plan to continue reading as many of his plays as possible this summer to expand my Shakespeare horizons– fingers crossed I find one that I love!

Until then, the Bard and I will just have to agree to disagree.

What are your thoughts on Shakespeare? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? Have you encountered this English major stereotype before? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

How to Read Sexist Texts When You’re a Feminist English Major | Discussion

Recently I had the displeasure of taking a course dedicated to Renaissance poetry, and MY OH MY were those old white men a bunch of misogynistic poets. While there were a few glimmers of hope amidst the nearly translucent pages of my weathered Norton Anthology of Poetry (as shown by my previous discussion of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2), the vast majority of the poems I read for this class made me wonder why they were even regarded as important and “great” pieces of writing in the first place, never mind why we continue to include them in poetry collections like this one. It’s safe to say that after reading dozens of these poems over the course of the semester, my patience was worn down to a precariously thin layer of frustration.

It was necessary for me to think of concrete ways of addressing this problem while still being able to do well in the class. Refusing to read the poems was obviously not an option for me, meaning that I had to get a bit creative with my reading strategy.

I must say up front that the following advice is purely based on my own personal experiences reading these works. These steps may not work for everyone and that is perfectly okay. We all have our own tips and tricks to help us confront, interpret, and challenge views that challenge our own– the following pieces of advice happen to be my own personal strategy. At any rate, I hope you find this discussion at least a bit helpful or thought-provoking in some way.

1. Actually read it.

Yes, actually read the incredibly sexist poem or story or novel that you’d desperately like to avoid at all costs (unless, of course, it contains something personally triggering– then do whatever you need to in order to practice self-care). The reason I urge you to read it is that it’s difficult (nigh impossible) to make an educated argument against something if you do not have relevant textual evidence with which to back up your claim.

2. Maintain your distance.

I’m sure there’s a better, clearer, more accurate and succinct way of saying this, but I’ll try my best.  I think it’s important to recognize that someone can acknowledge and understand another person’s opinions without believing in or agreeing with them. For instance, in my poetry class I was required to read, understand, and explicate these poems in order to receive a good grade. However, this did not stop me from challenging the ideas that these poems presented. It was vital that I read these poems with from a certain intellectual and ideological distance that allowed me to understand them without having to agree with their meaning.

3. Allow feminism to fuel your analysis.

While it’s important to understand and think about the poems according to the context in which they were written, it’s also valuable to read them through a feminist lens. Feminist literary theory exists for a reason: to be utilized. Moreover, this class forced me to become comfortable with directly pointing out the sexism in writing that is considered to be canonically “great.” I was not going to sit there and tell my professor that I support the inclusion of Robert Herrick’s “Upon Julia’s Breasts” in the Norton Anthology of Poetry over providing ample space for one of Lady Mary Wroth’s entire crown of sonnets. (Honestly, are those four lines of pure female objectification really a necessary component of this collection?) Just because something has been deemed a “classic” work of literature does not mean that it is without flaws.

4. Think about your own beliefs and values.

At the end of the day, I used this class as an opportunity to assess and spend time thinking about my own core beliefs. What about these poems did I find offensive and uncomfortable to read? Why did I feel this way about what I was reading in the first place? By using this as an opportunity for individual reflection I was able to better understand my own personal values.

Again, I hope this discussion is thought-provoking or beneficial in some way, whether that be in an academic setting or simply while reading in your daily life.

Have you ever read something that challenged your beliefs? How did you handle the situation? What do you think about the advice that I’ve offered? Do you have any advice for confronting issues like this? I would absolutely love to discuss these topics in greater detail, so please let me know what you think in the comments section down below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Sophomore Status Achieved | College

SO LONG, SUMMER!-3

It’s official: I’m now a sophomore in college!

As you read this, I am moving into my new dorm room and bracing myself for my first semester of sophomore year to begin. Currently I’m an English major (and potential Hispanic Studies double major) at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. 

The thought of starting a new year and semester of college is both incredibly exciting at a bit nerve-racking. Leaving freshman year behind means that I will have more independence, opportunities, and responsibilities than ever before. It’s all a little daunting, to say the least!

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Nevertheless, I’m ecstatic to be able to see my college friends again and get back into a routine of classes, clubs, and countless campus events. I love steady routines and schedules, so this aspect of college is actually really comforting to me.

As per usual I’m taking four classes this semester, which are:

  • Evolution of English
  • Contemporary Women Writers {Spanish}
  • Modern Spanish America {History}
  • Introductory Physics {to fulfill my science requirement}

I’m definitely the most nervous about the physics class because science isn’t really my forte. However, I’m looking forward to the Spanish literature class because we’ll be reading several interesting novels over the course of the semester. Hopefully everything goes well!

It’s so strange to think that this new school year is finally here. my first year of college certainly had its ups and downs, but all in all I couldn’t have asked for a better freshman year at Wheaton. I can’t wait to see what exciting adventures this year will bring!

Wish me luck!

Yours,

HOLLY