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Reading For Pleasure In Grad School

Advice for making time to enjoy non-academic books.

November 1, 2015

Natascha Chtena is a PhD student in Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @nataschachtena.



Oftentimes, grad students complain about how little time they have to read non-academic books like novels and popular non-fiction. And they’re right – finding time for pleasure reading can be a challenge in grad school. Just getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly and maintaining a social life are often enough of a challenge without finding time to pleasure read added to the mix.


But it’s not impossible and small changes really can go a long way. If you miss reading for pleasure and can’t get yourself to read a long book here are a few things to consider:


  • Start small. If it’s been a while since you read a book cover to cover, start small. Pick up something that energizes and inspires you: a motivational book, a self-help book, some short stories or a poetry collection.

  • Be kind to yourself. Reading for pleasure should be just that, for pleasure. This isn’t about honing your expertise, complexifying your argument or impressing your profs. That pile of books you know you should be reading that you keep stacked next to your bed is irrelevant here. This isn’t about your research (at least not directly) and it’s not about other people either; there’s no one watching, no one judging. So go ahead, read what you crave and what you think will make you feel better!

  • Try audiobooks. Audiobooks are a fantastic option for your commute (especially if you drive or get nauseous reading on the bus) and for those days when your eyes are just too tired to read print. I used to download my audiobooks from iTunes but this past summer I got hooked on Audible. Audible lets you download two books for free if you sign-up for their 30-day free trial and they also have a huge repository of older and/or obscure titles that they offer at no cost. At $14.95/ month for one audiobook (and $22.95 for two), Audible is not cheap by any means, but I like the incentive of the subscription to keep going.

  • Ban distractions from your bedroom. Unless I’m having one of those nights when I just wanna binge-watch bad TV, electronics are banned from my bedroom after 9:30PM. Only by turning my bedroom into a stress-free zone can I find the concentration (and willpower) to read before bed. I try to keep at least a few different books handy on my nightstand; this way I can always choose according to my mood and energy levels. And sometimes that just means reading Harry Potter for the gazillionth time ;)

  • Re-read a book you already love. Sometimes the best vacation for your brain is that which takes you to a safe, familiar place. When you re-read a loved book you read it faster and you already know what happens so if you have to put it away for a few weeks, you won't lose the plot. Most important, pleasure is guaranteed (no wasting time on a stinker of a book)!

  • Schedule “reading time” in your calendar. I’ve made a habit of scheduling reading time in my calendar the same way I do appointments and fitness classes. It’s the first step toward “making time” for something that can feel so self-indulgent and, well, peripheral. The time that works best for me is early in the morning and late in the evening (it’s the best way to start and end a day!) but if you’re unsure just try out different times.

  • Stop reading online news articles. A couple of years ago the Guardian ran an article arguing that online news is bad for our health. While this may sound a tad extreme, the points Rolf Dobelli makes in that piece are actually quite strong (go see for yourself). Dobelli argues, amongst other, that news pieces just feed us “small bits of trivial matter, tidbits that don't really concern our lives and don't require thinking.” And at the end of the day, if you want to find time for reading, you need to take time away from something else.

  • Use a reading tracker. You can use different websites to track your reading process throughout the year; my personal favorite is Shelfari, but there are tons of others, including Goodreads, Delicious Library and LibraryThing. While the aesthetic and user interfaces are different, the features across websites are roughly the same: you can see your reading stats, keep track of the books you wanna read later on, add reviews and notes and see what your friends are reading. Most of these sites also make recommendations based on the books you’ve read and enjoyed.


Ultimately, finding the time to read for pleasure starts with an acknowledgement that something is amiss and a decision to change one's habits. When you decide to spend (more) time doing something, you must also choose what you will no longer do. While “time hacks” like audiobooks are wonderful, they certainly can't change the fact that there are only 24 hours in the day. So before you get started on your “making time to read” project, consider what you are willing to forfeit.


Do you read for pleasure? How do you find the time? Add your tricks and suggestions to the comments below!

[Image by David Goehring and used under Creative Commons Licensing.]


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