Academic and Pleasure Reading

August 19, 2009 at 12:00 am 6 comments

Last night over dinner, my roommate was studiously reading Caroline Murphy’s Murder of a Medici Princess with laser-like intensity. Intrigued, I asked her if it was any good to which she gave an interesting answer. She replied that she was greatly enjoying it even though she doesn’t typically read “this kind” of historic nonfiction (presumably the slightly fluffy, Alison Weir kind). She then added that she supposed she was enjoying it, even though she dubbed it not particularly good, because she wasn’t reading it with an academic mind-set. She was simply reading for the pleasure of it.

To me, this was an interesting distinction and one which I’m sure I’ve made subconsciously many times. There is undeniably something different about reading a book with academic purposes at heart or for the sheer bliss of it. I’m not even necessarily talking about academic books (something like “The Invention of the Modern Psyche in Eighteenth-Century and Post-Revolution France”); I mean any book. Reading a novel like Dracula for fun as opposed to for a class renders an entirely different experience. But is it better or worse or just different?

I would say that it is all three. There are books that are better enjoyed academically simply because you get more out of them. Conversely, there are others that are that can be too over-analyzed if studied academically, but which are delightful if read for fun. And, of course, there are books that can read both ways to no detriment.

Anyway, my roommate’s comments made me look more closely at something I do constantly (different mindsets of reading) and made me wonder how much more or less I would enjoy what I’m currently reading (The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by the wonderful Heather Ewing) in a class or outside of it. The jury is still out.


Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , , .

All You People Beating a dead horse — or maybe an undead horse

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dad  |  August 20, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Since I haven’t read anything w an academic perspective in like 100 years I’m a bit out of practice. Interesting to stop and think about the various mindsets one brings to the “read” though.

    • 2. Corey  |  August 20, 2009 at 11:19 am

      It’s interesting though because you’re reading very academic books without the academic mindset! It’s a reversal!

  • 3. Dad  |  August 20, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Where are the Comix by Corey?

  • 5. Innocent Traitor « Literary Transgressions  |  August 26, 2009 at 12:41 am

    […] I know Corey called Alison Weir ’slightly fluffy’ last week, and she’s not wrong. In fact, she’s more than likely absolutely correct, […]

  • 6. Kate  |  September 3, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    I know this was six years ago, but can I argue that if she liked it, it must have been “good” in some way? :) Maybe not academically rigorous or something she can brag about, but if she enjoyed it, it’s enjoyable, and that means something.

    /popular literature rant


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