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2nd November 2023

Reading into reading week: does it live up to name?

How much do we actually get done during reading week? Instead of stressing over how much you’re doing, perhaps it’s time to change its name
Reading into reading week: does it live up to name?
Credit: “Read a book” by Chris Wieland

A time coloured by balancing frantic assignments and Halloween recovery, reading week marks the halfway checkpoint of each semester. But how much of the week is actually spent doing what it’s name suggests? And how does your specific course affect how much of a break you really get?

Over the past three years of being at university, I’ve done something different with the free week each time it rolls around. First year, I decided to travel home, a standard practice for the homesick fresher. Leaving the busyness of the city for the first time felt like putting earplugs in. I almost cried at the sight of my hometown’s railway station after possibly the most calming journey of my life.

In my second year, I took the opportunity to visit some friends from home at the university they attend. Again, I took a long train journey only this time to somewhere unfamiliar, but with a familiar face greeting me. And currently, in my third year here, I’m staying put in Manchester over the week to try and make the most of the city in my final few months.

My plan is simple: find the most picturesque locations possible (personal favourites include Café Blah, or Chapter One Books if I find myself in town); bring a couple of charming hardbacks from the library, in the case of one becoming a bit stagnant; and try my best to look effortlessly studious while sipping on coffee and occasionally glancing up to watch passersby. An unassumingly well-crafted persona that many humanities students aspire to.

Whether or not this will come to fruition, either by fault of laziness or Halloween recovery, is anyone’s guess. The backup plan at least is equally as effective: stay cosied up in bed. Much less glamorous, yet I’ll still be reading the same books. Possibly more effectively due to my mattress not having a closing hour. The result is the same in my professors’ eyes.

Doing an English Literature degree, I feel my perception of how much reading is achieved in reading week is a little skewed. I personally relish the opportunity to catch up and reach a point where I feel comfortable about the treacherous academic world of the winter months. Though, I know many coursemates who instead prefer to take a break from the endless onslaught of novels, journals, and essays thrown their way to declutter their brains.

A perfectly reasonable choice of course, but maybe not as practical as the intended purpose, or the other alternative getting ahead on midterm assignments. The essays, close readings, and presentations etc. that plague the first few weeks of November loom ahead.

It seems that the hours spent at the library or – for the brave – chained to a desk at home or in halls, eat away at the entire week and leave little room for any reading besides anything going towards a dreaded assignment. Would a more appropriate term for this week then be something along the lines of “assignment week”? But then where would that put the students studying for degrees that have assignments consistently throughout the semester rather than clustered towards the middle and end?

Many STEM students of course don’t get a reading week the same way the rest of us do, still having to attend labs or even full lectures. I’m aware of how out of touch I sound as a Humanities student not used to having more than ten contact hours a week (at a push). I can’t imagine it feels the most favourable to see a flock of students bunk off or visit home for a week while obliged to a lab report due the next day.

I suppose I have been taking reading week for granted in the academic sense, it almost feels like being cheated out of a week of teaching (almost). The age-old STEM versus Humanities war will wage either way, there’s little I can say about seven days of potential reading to try and bridge that gap. Naturally, I’m sure everyone is thankful for the time off granted, however, they choose to spend it.

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