Reading for pleasure is easy to forget in the rush of a Cambridge term Suzy Hazelwood

On my shelves normally is a row of folders, a row of library books and a row of books I’ve brought up from home but that are relevant for my degree. At the moment, they feature excitingly-named volumes such as English Social History and The Keynesian Revolution in the Making. But this term, I’ve added a few more. Books that are in no way related to history, or politics.

I read a lot at Cambridge. As an arts student, it’s obviously required and expected, and every week sees me trudge to the library to get out more books that I will, at most, read only two or three chapters of.

Reading the first book completely unrelated to my degree in over a year during the Christmas holidays made realise that I’d almost forgotten how to read for pleasure. Forgotten how to read without constantly skimming ahead, looking for relevant words or information. Forgotten how to read without making notes or checking references. Forgotten how to read without constantly checking the clock to check that I still had enough time before I needed to start writing an essay.

“Reading the first book completely unrelated to my degree in over a year during the Christmas holidays made realise that I’d almost forgotten how to read for pleasure”

Reading for pleasure felt almost alien, taking my time, simply following from page one until the end. I rediscovered the joy of following a narrative, of seeing something develop over time that wasn’t a macroeconomic trend, or a historiography. I had to almost reteach myself to read every word, to not worry about what was coming next.

Before, I thought I didn’t have enough time to read in Cambridge. When not doing academic work or the million and one other things there are to occupy you during term, it felt like I should be socialising or simply catching up on sleep. I probably could have read one more thing to increase my bibliography, or started on some revision notes, but that time probably would have just been spent flicking through Instagram or chatting about nothing anyway. This term, I’ve made a conscious effort to make the time to read and read things for pure pleasure.

“I’ve laughed, cried, and been made to look at things from a different angles”

My Cambridge bubble barely extends beyond a twenty-minute walking radius, so escaping through the pages of a book is much needed. So, it’s not surprising that my choice of reading has been travel and nature writing. When I miss waking up to the sound of birds looking onto fields, reading comforts me. I’ve been transported to the South West Coast path, the moors of England and the sunken holloways of Dorset. I’ve laughed, cried, and been made to look at things from a different angles. Whenever I want to get away from it all for a day, instead of wistfully looking at trains home, I open my latest book. Instead wasting hours on my phone before finally going to sleep, I find myself actually winding down.


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Travel writing has given me a sense of perspective. A sense of how small everything is, and how insignificant in the long run. The story written by a lady, who was made homeless and informed of her husband’s terminal illness in the space of a week, who then decided to walk over 500 miles, makes my weekly essay crisis pale in significance. The tales of footpaths over 2000 years old makes even Cambridge seem young in comparison. A tour of Britain makes me realise how small a part of even a small island I exist in. Whilst it’s normally good to feel like you matter, sometimes it’s equally as useful to remember that, in the grand scheme of things, you don’t.

The full-on nature of Cambridge can make it feel like you don’t have the time for anything as luxurious or wasteful as reading for pure pleasure. But as the weeks roll by, it’s made me question how I was ever able to function without it.

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