3 years of university. 2 years of assessed work which will determine my overall grade: 2 presentations, 33,000 words worth of essay, 1 creative project, 4 exams. 2 in class tests, and a 10,000 word dissertation. (It’s sounds like a lot when I count it up like that). Now its over. That means I’ve officially done all I can this year, all the essays are in the submissions box, the dissertation is bound, printed and handed in, and the exam revision notes are now immediately wiped from my memory. So with all that done, I thought I’d do a post reflecting on my three years as an English Literature student.
I did a lot of reading while I was at University (I’m not going to go through and count that out but you can see all the books I read last year in my 2017 reading review here). I did not by any means do as much reading as was required of me. The amount of books from my reading list I either never reached the end of or skipped all together is probably equal to the ones I did finish. I don’t feel deprived for having not finished my 3-4 texts a week, every week. I never got through the complete works of Shakespeare, and that’s okay.
This summer, after leaving University, I feel like I need to learn how to read again. Which sounds stupid I know. Three years of studying books at this level has changed my relationship to books. In Sixth Form I would get through three books a week, now I struggle through one. Not that it’s about numbers, it’s about the enthusiasm and passion that these numbers represent. I need to learn how to hold a book in two hands, no highlighter uncapped and at the ready, no brain clicked into study gear. Reading must be done differently now. I need to remember how to choose whatever I want to read, with no weight of expectation or reading lists in my head. A lot of the time while at University I found myself, even in my leisure reading, reaching for something that had some canonical weight – books I felt like a literature student ‘should’ read, which have a reputation, which could at any point be named dropped in a seminar and I would be able to contribute to the discussion.
I realise so far I’ve been rather negative about my whole experience as an English Literature student, but it has been far from a negative experience overall. In my start of 3rd Year post I wrote “Like a frog on a science teachers’ table, when the dissection is taking place no one cares that the frog dies, should I not care if the book dies in the process of literary analysis? Will they die or will I simply see these books in a brighter, deeper light?” The more I’ve learnt about literary analysis, the more I’ve come to realise that it is not a process of dissection, it is a more a process of conversation or interview with the texts. The texts ask you questions and you ask it questions, no one has to die or go through an intense struggle. I think up until 3rd year I always thought that the purpose of English Literature was to dissect a text, and find it’s real meaning. I now realise that when it comes to books there is no ‘real’ meaning, there are countless interpretations. A book is not a puzzle to be solved, it is an artwork to admire – and everyone has a different favourite colour, just like everyone has a different interpretation of a text.
I think these realisations came to me through my dissertation, which I wrote on The Beat Generation writers, despite this 10,000 word essay being worth 25% of my year’s grade reading the Beat’s taught me not to take it all too seriously. Not everything needs to be understood, some things are nonsense for the sake of nonsense, some things are aesthetic for the sake of it, things are not always a metaphor. Sal’s drinking problem in ‘On the Road’ is not a metaphor for the mood of a trapped and disenchanted generation, it’s just Kerouac writing himself on the page, flaws and all. My dissertation therefore, despite making me indescribably stressed and giving me back ache from sitting in the library for days at a time painstakingly researching, reading, and writing, was the highlight of my time as an English Literature student. 10,000 seems like a big number, but by the time I was finishing off the title page, I felt like I’d hardly started at all. The dissertation allowed me to have complete freedom, and fun, with what I wanted to study and think about. I fell out with reading a lot through University, having to plow through Shakespeare, Romantic poetry, Modernism metropolises, but my dissertation reading always kept my passion alive. I could read some mad Ginsberg poems, Kerouac novels, Burroughs’ diaries etc. for hours and never be finished with them, so richly packed are they with answer-less interview questions for me as a reader.
The observant amongst you may have noticed the change in my blog name from ‘Red Hat Reads’ to simply ‘Her in the Red Hat’ (which is also my Instagram name *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*). I’ve made this change at the end of University because I didn’t want to go from on environment where I felt like there was a right and wrong way to read, a pressure to read, to another. This blog is my blog. It is no longer an exclusive book blog. I need to rebuild a friendship with books, and I’m going to try and reflect that in any coming reviews I write up on this blog.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the direction this blog goes in in the months to come!