I hate telling people I’m an English major. In fact, I avoid the topic at all costs (which, for anyone who’s experienced the awful small talk that comes with starting University, avoiding the topic of your own major is an impressive feat).
It’s easy to say I don’t like talking about it because I don’t enjoy being asked what I’m going to do with that (teach English), being envied for all the “free time” I must have (I don’t), or being patronized for the “simplicity” of my degree (I’m looking at you, STEM majors).
But, if I’m being honest, the real reason I hate telling people I’m an English major is because I hate when they ask me what I’m currently reading. Somehow, that always ends up as a follow up question, sandwiched between the aforementioned comments.
It’s not that I don’t love talking about what I’m reading. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very passionate about the books I read. I don’t think I would’ve even considered the English major if I wasn’t. It’s more that there’s an expectation that I’m always reading something extraordinary and challenging. When I open my mouth, the first thing that most people expect me to say is “War and Peace” or “Jane Eyre”.
Now, this isn’t anything against War and Peace or Jane Eyre. I loved Jane Eyre and, while I’ve never read War and Peace, I enjoyed Anna Karenina, which is also penned by Tolstoy. But realistically, I’m not always rereading classical literature or working my way through the list of Great American novels.
And, of course, with the expectation that I’m reading something advanced, there’s always the expectation that I’ll have something profoundly nuanced to say about it. I face a gawking stare as the questioner awaits the reveal of my current read and my sage analysis.
But, the truth is, I’m probably reading something well below my reading level. Or, even if it’s closer to my reading level, it certainly is not a novel revered with prestige and superiority. More likely than not, I’m reading a YA fantasy series or a cheesy romance novel. And even more appalling, I don’t have much to say about it (or at least, nothing profound).
See, the truth is that I love to read the classics as much as any other English major. But I find myself burnt out from the hundreds of required reads I work through each year. After countless hours of reading, annotating, discussing, and analyzing complicated literature, I find myself craving a light, easy read in my down time.
I think I’ve internalized a stigma about reading. The expectation that I’m always reading something challenging and stimulating has led me to believe that I am less competent or intelligent if I resort to lighter reads for my own enjoyment. As a result, I avoid sharing my reading preferences to not face judgment.
I recently joined a YA book club and I was frankly shocked by how many English majors were also in the class. It’s so easy to think that all English majors only read very serious literature, but it’s pleasantly surprising how many others share the same love for less serious literature. Sure, the club wasn’t only English majors. But, if anything, it was a relief to see that other people shared my enjoyment of reading that genre. Other people, intelligent people, enjoyed YA fiction and didn’t believe that enjoying YA fiction made them less intelligent or competent.
At the end of the day, reading should bring enjoyment. It’s why I wanted to major in English in the first place; I simply love reading. And yes, while challenging, stimulating novels are always fun to read, I truly prefer YA or romance novels when it comes to my down time. As long as I’m enjoying the books, what harm is there in reading something enjoyable?