Reading Fatigue: Pulling Myself out of a Literary Rut

By Erika Nelson

Every month, the Goodreads newsletter pops into my inbox. These emails taunt me by singing the praises of newly-published books: colorful rectangle covers lined up into neat rows by genre; enticing blurbs draw me in. I used to pore over these newsletters and make library holds based on book suggestions, but now emails from Goodreads just evoke guilt.

I love to read. As an English major, I think that goes without saying, but I love to read more than the average person. I’ll read pretty much anything. Fiction and nonfiction. Science texts and sci-fi novels. The latest poignant, “deep” literary triumphs alongside “comfort food” stories from childhood. A few years ago, I consumed the New Yorker cover-to-cover in an evening.  I read a book (or more) every couple weeks. More recently, however, my “to-read” list has grown longer and longer, my Goodreads account sits in stagnant silence, and I rarely read for fun anymore. Why?

College involves a lot of reading, and majoring in English involves even more reading. I read so much for school every day that by the time I have some free moments the last thing I want to do is pick up another book. Instead — and I hate to admit this — most of my spare time is spent glued to my phone. I keep up on news articles and current event pieces online and off … but when it comes to reading for the sake of reading, anything longer than 280 characters doesn’t have much of a chance.

Reading fatigue is fairly common in academic circles. In a recent discussion post on D2L, I asked classmates if they had any ideas to wake up from my word fugue. People commiserate and several expressed the same problem. They had some great ideas for combatting reading fatigue: reading while sipping my morning coffee, having a specific reading space, and reading in bite-sized pieces. From their suggestions, I’ve decided to set myself a New Month’s Resolution: read one non-school book a month for the rest of the year.

I think this is a reasonable goal, if I can manage to tear myself away from my phone more often … this is where self-discipline comes in. However, I’m going to allow myself some grace if I fall behind — after all, life happens, and instructor-assigned reading comes first. I’m excited to get started! Step one: Look over that email from Goodreads.

Dorm Pie

By Erika Nelson

As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction. 

I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.  

The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them. 

Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …

I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times. 

Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other. 

Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time.