It never fails.  Finals approaching, deadlines hanging in the air, more projects to do than I can actually hold in my head at one time, and what do I do?  Start a new book that’s totally unrelated to my classes.  It could be stress relief or denial or simply habit but when the going gets tough, I retreat into my living room with tea and a good book.

Since finals are (unfortunately) not so far off again, I’ve started to think about what my reading habits mean.  Why do they increase during times of stress, and why do I read the way I do?  Because here’s the thing: I am absolutely terrible at sticking with and finishing one book at a time.

I could say that it started freshman year at DePaul – I was in my dorm, working on fall finals, and just plain unable to study any more.  All of my friends were knee-deep in their own studies, so I didn’t want to bother them.  Instead, I picked up a book and went to sit in a cafe somewhere, quietly unwinding inside a good story and distancing myself from exams.  I’d pick up different books with my moods, or bounce between novels and comics to vary the difficulty of my reading.  However, the truth is that it started much earlier than that.  I’ve always been a serial reader, as far back as I can remember.

At any given time, I probably have three books going at once (they rarely have anything to do with my classes).  I’ll read a few chapters of a book, leave it be for a while, and then when I return, I realize that I’m no longer feeling the appeal.  So I start another.  Eventually I’ll go back to the first book (or second, or third, or whichever it is) because I’m apparently physically incapable of leaving a book half-read.  It might be days, it might be weeks or months, but I’ll go back to that book and finish it.

Finals season only intensifies my serial reading.  I may declare my love for a good classic and swear I’ll never leave it, only to fall into the arms of a pulp sci-fi novel a week later.  I cycle through books on whims, picking up this and that, discarding and re-discovering.  It may be that finals brings out the uncertain, impatient reader in me.  Usually I know I should be concentrating on academics, but there’s always some new paperback waiting for my attention.

Is there no cure?  Am I a bad reader for skipping around and going with my flow of interest?  What do you think, readers?  Do you stick with your reading or range far and wide?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Joe O. says:

    I, too, have found that I pick up books not related to my studies during finals. I agree, I think it is a form of stress relief. But for some reason, I tend to get a little anxious when I begin reading more than a couple books at once. For some reason I think I’ll forget the plot line or characters in the book I’ve put aside. However, this rarely happens, so I just need to get over the mental barrier I’ve somehow erected and start reading more freely.

  • Mark says:

    It was around this time last year when, instead of studying for finals, I started John Irving’s “The World According to Garp.” This was no light distraction, either–the book is over 500 pages long. I’ve often picked up a novel around finals, but this year, once again, with finals only a week away, I decided to start Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” I’m just as confused as you, Mallory, as to why I start books at the most inopportune times. Something tells me there is no cure.