My best guess is that I spent around 40 percent of my college education reading books. Another 25 percent was spent writing, another 25 spent in the art studio, and around 8 in classes. I’d mark two percentage points as “Other,” which includes pseudo-educational experiences like seeing pretentious indie films, hanging out at the campus radio station, or getting into a religious conversation with a Rastafarian shop clerk. I’m leaving out the large number of not-particularly educational experiences like re-watching Arrested Development and Chapelle’s Show on DVD for the 50th time, using cafeteria trays as makeshift sleds, and various anecdotes that I probably shouldn’t write down if I ever want to pursue an elected office.
Point being: I read a lot, for just about all of my classes. At any given point, I’d be reading three different things at once — a Shakespeare comedy, a nonfiction history of the Ottoman Empire, and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. Check in with me a month later and I’d have moved on to a biography of Marcel Duchamp, King Leopold’s Ghost, and a handful of short stories written by other Creative Writing students. Four years of reading, four years of needing to constantly switch gears.
Immediately after graduating, I barely read. It wasn’t that I was burned out. I just had spent so much time totally focused on assigned reading that when it suddenly ceased, I wasn’t really sure where to start again. I carried around a copy of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger on a few plane rides, but it took me much longer than it should have to complete that fairly short book.
Like every new graduate, if I was going to expend energy, it was toward finding a job. With my free, non-social time, I mostly just played guitar and caught up on one- or two-year-old video games I didn’t have time for in college, like Shadow of the Colossus.
I landed my first real, serious, full-time job in September after graduating in May. It was at a magazine and I worked in production. That meant my primary responsibility was to be available to do my part as the writers and editors finished up their job. If it was a slow week, and I could stay on top of everything, I’d sometimes be left with a good chunk of downtime.
So I started reading again — first slowly, then voraciously. My old habits came back. I burned through the rest of King’s The Dark Tower, alternating each book in the series with something completely different. Then at a co-worker’s insistence, I started George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I ate it up, but I maintained the alternating schedule. Following up the gritty high fantasy of A Clash of Kings with the narrative of a dispassionate English butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day worked as a very effective palate cleanser.
Eventually — inevitably — I got my hands on an e-reader. I’m frequently asked if having an e-reader changes my reading habits, specifically, if I’ve given up on paper books. The answer is no, I haven’t given up on print. All that having an e-reader has done is to encourage me to carry around and read two or more books at a time, one print and one digital. I’m straddling multiple books at once, just like I did in college. My reading habits have reached their logical conclusion.
Sure, this is just a case study of my personal experience, so there’s no saying if this exact thing will happen to you. But, even if it’s not about reading, don’t be surprised if you find yourself circling back towards old college habits and interests years after graduation.
We spend so much of our lives as students that by the time we reach our early twenties, most of us are all too eager to move on to the next stage. But your education will stick with you whether you want it to or not. Even if you never take another class, write another paper, or stay up all night working on a project again, curiosity will creep back up on you, and you’ll find yourself approaching the real world with a student’s mind.