To read or not to read, is that the question?

Study booksThroughout the past four years of my time as a student of the University of London, I have spent the best part of my summers mulling over reading lists. Don’t you all anticipate the new stationary, new books and new reading lists when exams still seem aeons away? The first day of holidays right after my last exam, I have downloaded the subject guides quite as if on autopilot. It has given me a rush of joy and immense satisfaction to discover in advance what the coming academic year holds for me.

I have come across many students on the VLE asking questions in a similar vein regarding readings:

Do I have to read a lot as a student of the University of London?

Reading is an integral part of degrees such as BA English and the Graduate Diploma in International Relations, the two degrees that I have studied for through the University of London. The answer is yes, you have to read a fair amount of materials. However, it is on par with the expectations of undergraduate and graduate study and it will be a paradox to believe one can course through further studies without reading much.

How much should I read to be able to sit exams with confidence?

Reading lists in our subject guides are organised into essential/primary readings and further/secondary readings. To achieve your course outcomes and be able to approach exams with confidence it is crucial to read all the essential readings. However, when it comes to further readings, there is a lot of flexibility. You can narrow down the list based on topics of your interest and availability of texts. Supplementing these with your own research incorporating more recent publications and additional materials that you can easily access at the local library or journals online will definitely earn you brownie points in assessments.

How do I tackle the extensive reading lists?

Keep calm and read on posterIt is true that by the end of your cursory glances over subject guides, cumulatively, your list of readings will be overwhelming and appear insurmountable. Don’t worry! The best approach is to start small: pick a book you find interesting that is part of your core syllabus and read a couple of pages every day. It is helpful to get into this rhythm of reading where it gradually becomes a habit and part of your daily activities.

All these are pertinent questions and if there was someone in my first year to give tangible advice I may not have stressed myself too much about trying to read everything on the reading list. You do not have to read everything. While I do advise you to try and read all the essential readings, making informed selections in secondary readings and narrowing down a handful of topics to focus on is the most helpful and practical strategy for success.

On this note, I am sharing with you three books that I have selected for my summer:

  • The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
  • Ars Amatoria, Ovid
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

I would love to know what you are planning to read. Please comment and share your summer reading lists!

Happy reading,


Picture Sources:
Library Book Haul, (own)
Keep Calm and Read On, Dr Seuss

Fiana is enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in International Relations. She previously earned a BA English degree with the International Programmes and is studying independently in Canada.

4 thoughts on “To read or not to read, is that the question?

  1. The English Patient!! OK—sorry for the off-topic ;)

    I agree with you, the lists initially seem overwhelming, but once you get started, find your focus and narrow down the secondary readings you realise that it’s perfectly feasible. In fact, I ended up hungry for more making my own to-read lists for after the exams when I had time!

    This summer I’m catching up on E.M. Forster and some Henry James, but soon I will begin to read works relevant to my MA in world literatures. I can’t wait to have more reading lists!

    Cheers Fiana! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought I were the only one suffering from the drawbacks of exams!!! It seems as if I can’t come out of the study mode. However, I have also downloaded a few pages of the courses that I intend to study, provided that I pass all my attempted exams in May/June.

    I agree that it is important to read the essential recommended readings. Sometimes the further readings are simply impossible to do because of the time frame. The journal articles in the further readings are easier to tackle than a suggested text.

    Good luck all, as we endeavour to be better citizens by developing ourselves holistically!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve just signed up for the English degree to stat studying this year… and after reading the study guide for just my first course last night, I was more than a little scared at the amount of work to be read.
    But this blog has eased my nerves a tad; thank you!
    I already have plans to visit my local library and become their best friend, and I started reading reading some of the course material even before I signed up. So, I think I’m good to go.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. All the best @Vernon and @mynuttydubai! I am sure you will all do great, you already have a brilliant start.
    One of the best things is having fellow students with whom you share the journey. @Neira and I were in the same cohort and it was so helpful to have friends who were going through the same processes of choosing authors, buying books and following the same deadlines. Make the best out of these few years and enjoy. It will be so rewarding.


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