While on a family outing today, I was taken into a bookshop. Far from being the haven of my youth, I am now filled with a cacophony of emotions when I step into beautiful buildings bursting with books. Not least of these is the need to wax lyrical and alliterate apparently. But also, as a student of English Literature, bookshops become beacons of all that you once loved which your degree has taken from you and smashed into a million tiny pieces. I was therefore inspired to write about all the ways, off the top of my head, that studying literature can ruin your life.
1. Reading becomes a chore
And as we all know, once it is work, it is no longer fun. This is true of reading for a degree because instead of perusing great or trashy works of literature at leisure, you are forced to speed through a dozen volumes in a dozen weeks whether you like them or not. Instead of having light reading before bed, you now have a set number of pages you must read before the seminar otherwise you will be forced into the most awkward situation where you have to rely on sparknotes and wikipedia to get you through the obscure questions your tutors will throw your way… Or so I hear…
When it’s work, you want to avoid it at all costs. From a beautiful bookworm, you have evolved into a book shy butterfly who will do anything rather than the required reading.
2. You analyse everything
It’s like you suddenly have Literature Tourrettes. After a year and a half of my degree, I have developed an inability to turn off the little analytical voice in my head that says “well, the author clearly included this chapter for character development” or “this is symbolic of the betrayal of Judas and therefore is allowing the reader to make a significant comparison” and all the other nonsense that is required in seminars and essays. I even once found myself scanning the poem extracts on the floor of St Pancras station. That was a dark day.
3. No one thinks you’re doing a real degree
No one. Ever. At all. Not once. I understand their point, I read books and have five hours of lectures. That can hardly compare to engineers or med students or anyone else who holds a BSC. This can put a real dent in your motivation and self-worth.
4. You are expected to know all the grammar and words ever
As you can probably tell from my posts here, I have a pretty decent working knowledge of grammar and my vocabulary is above average but I am not invulnerable to typos and brain freezes. On those days when your status or tweet has an error, as an English student You Will Never Hear The End Of It. Fact. Everyone else in the world is allowed to be occasionally illiterate but not you.
5. You can practice being poor
I thought I’d stick this in here in the middle as an upside because I didn’t want you all to get so depressed that you wouldn’t want to keep reading. The benefit of being an English student is that you can practice being poor now, because let’s face it, no one’s going to hire you because the only thing you’re good at, at this point, is being poor.
6. You study some seriously weird shit
It is occasionally easy to forget that other people don’t spend their entire lectures talking about gay werewolves, feminism, subtext and murder. This means that when you get to socialise with ‘normal’ people who do ‘real’ degrees, not only will you struggle to defend your life to them (remember point 3), you will also have a hard time trying not to appear completely batshit. On the plus side, English departments are normally quite large so there is a whole bunch of people who will understand why it is that you can’t stop seeing subtext, murder and feminism in EVERYTHING. Just like point one only less socially acceptable when you announce that Lumiere and Cogsworth are clearly the greatest love story in Beauty and the Beast…
7. You are eternally expected to say “The book was better”
When you go to the cinema, it’s a natural instinct when you’ve read the book to compare them and if the people you are with know what you study, they will totally expect it from you. Which means, even if you haven’t read the book, you have to pretend you’ve read the book because that’s the entire point of everything you do and you can’t let them down now.
8. You will get moaned at for saying “The book was better”
You can never win.
9. You have no practical life experience
Contrary to all your hopes and expectations, being able to bullshit your way through a 2000 word essay does not translate so well into the jobs market unless you’re interested in PR in which case, go forth and bullshit my friend. Otherwise, you know fucktons about Tom Hardy and nothing about how to run a business, build a wall or cut someone’s hair. What I’m saying is, we don’t have a prime position in the nuclear bunker of life. The BA section is reserved for those who create art not just those who analyse it.
10. At least there’s a long list of alcoholic writers to draw on for career aspirations.
There are even lists of them on the internet for you to directly research
10 b. When you see a list like that, your first thought is that this could be a possible dissertation topic: how being drunk affected/influenced these authors…
Well, I have nothing left to say, except from that we should get on with number 10, therefore CHEERS!
If you think I’ve missed anything off, comment or tweet me at @tommylouise