What to Read When You’re Reading

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Ah, September. The beautiful fresh beginning we’ve all been looking ahead to. Finally, after months of doing absolutely nothing, in we flood to our (online) classrooms. And if there’s one thing that our glorious return to (online) classrooms means, it is reading. 

I’m an English student, so I grant you that my reading list is potentially a bit bulkier than some, but with the advent of the university year, we all have a lot more reading on our plate than before. But does that mean we don’t still love a bit of reading for pleasure? Of course it doesn’t! It can be tricky figuring out what is best to read for a bit of a relax when you have so much academic reading to do, so here’s a little guide to what I enjoy reading as a little break from, well, reading. 

Poetry

What could be better for a bit of light reading than something not even a page long! Dig into a poetry collection by your favourite poet, or maybe get your hands on a classic poetry anthology to really find your footing. I think too many readers are intimidated by poetry – it can be seen as far too highbrow or difficult to really digest, but that needn’t be the case. So much poetry is elegant and beautiful, conjuring up rich images in your head. It isn’t all difficult to understand at face value, and even that which has a straightforward instinctive meaning can have such layers to explore if you’re looking for something more.

My personal recommendations for poetry are: 

Jemima Foxtrot All Damn Day

Seamus Heaney Death of a Naturalist

Ana Sampson I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud: And Other Poems You Half-Remember From School

Carol Ann Duffy The World’s Wife

Short Stories

Don’t have time to tuck into a full novel? Is that 300 page story just too long? Then why not try a short story! So many fantastic writers focus on short story writing, and it truly is an art form of its own. Short stories are not simply a quicker, simpler version of novels – short stories are concise, self-contained pieces of art that need to be developed and taken somewhere interesting. They are beautifully paced and powerful, and often tackle incredibly complex ideas. Science fiction is one of the most key genres for short story writing, as they complex and innovative concepts are perfect to be tackled in a short burst that leaves you thinking.

My person recommendations for short stories are: 

Absolutely anything by Isaac Asimov, if science fiction is for you! Asimov is behind some of the best-known and most groundbreaking science fiction concepts in the genre, and his stories leave you with a sense of philosophy and excitement.

James Baldwin, Going to Meet the Man. This collection houses some of the best writing I have ever encountered, each with nuanced and resonant characters that encounter beautiful and horrific experiences and people. Sonny’s Blues in particular is possibly the best piece of writing I have ever read, and I would read absolutely anything by this man. This collection is especially pertinent in the context of Black Lives Matter, as the stories will enlighten you on experiences of race and racial violence.

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber. A favourite of modern feminists everywhere, this collection of short stories essentially reimagines classic fairy tales in a shocking feminist light. Carter subverts traditions of femininity and power dynamics in her stories, and one even inspired the band name Wolf Alice. If it’s good enough for Ellie Rowsell, it’s good enough for me. 

Elliot Rogers, Mugging, A Fragment. This is the first to be posted on his website, and is the handiwork of none other than a QMUL English student. The only thing better than consuming some wonderful short story writing in your spare time is consuming some wonderful short story writing by a talented writer from your own university. Get on it here.

Among poetry and short stories, which are perfect for reading on a tight timeline in between university work, don’t forget to read news articles and think pieces in your favourite newspapers and journals. Make sure to always stay on top of news and stay informed around what is going on around you. Between news and culture, you can discover areas of the world that you’re interested in that you might never have known about. Plus an informed member of the public is someone who is engaged in the world around them, which is never a bad thing!

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