College Lessons: You Don’t Have to Read Based on Your Age

I started my freshman year of college in September 2010. I went to the University of Maine at Farmington because, back then, it was the only public school that offered Creative Writing as a major. I wanted to give my mom a little bit of a heart attack, so I only applied to UMF. The CW major only accepted 16 students a year, and it was not as simple as submitting an application. I had to create a portfolio that would accurately represent the work I’d been doing throughout the years. I included excerpts from my original fantasy novel, bits of poetry I’d scatter-written over the years, and a few terrible short stories. I treated it like a scrapbook, putting it under a glittery Once Upon a Time cover, adding little things that fit each story, and generally made it look beautiful.

Honestly, looking back at it now, I’m really not sure why they accepted me. Maybe they saw the potential and how good my writing could eventually become under their tutelage? Either way, UMF said yes, and my mom breathed a sigh of relief. I was going to college.

Fun fact: that impossible to see necklace is a dragon claw.

Good grief, I can’t believe I’m sharing that with you. But it’s important! I need you to have an understanding of the kind of dumbass I was in college. This was my rainy day outfit–I wore as many colors as I could find in order to “bring the sunshine.” Admittedly, I still find this idea pretty adorable. The execution? Not so much.

Anyway, I set out with the intention to gobble up as much school as I possibly could. Under the CW arch, there were four subjects: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Screenwriting. Each of the four had an intro and an advanced. Great, I thought, I’m taking all eight. (I did, and it was incredible.) But something else was happening at the same time–there were English classes that I was actively interested in. An entire semester on Shakespeare? Sign me the heck up. Ancient European texts? YUP. A space to finally shout about my love of Roland and swords? I was in heaven.

My mom loved getting first day of school photos, and I loved obliging.

I started taking more and more English classes in addition to my required Creative Writing classes. (Okay, not all eight classes were required. I am just A Lot.) It got to the point where, as I was getting ready to pick my classes for my junior year, my advisor, who had done not a whole lot to help me up to this point, sat me down and said, “Look. You have two options right now. You either double major in English, or you stop taking literature classes.” To this day, I’m still not really sure why those were my options. Why can’t I just fill up my schedule with literature classes as long as I was meeting the requirements for my actual major?

I digress. I’m mostly bitter because double majoring meant that I was going to have to take American lit, which I’m still, to this day, not about. But I thought it would be cool to have both a BFA and a BA, so I thought, what the heck, let’s do it.

That scary gremlin in the background is my best friend, Erin!

The wildest thing I ever did in college was go to a blacklight party and dance around completely sober. It was a lot of fun, but is also kind of a perfect transition to the thing I spent most of my time doing: reading and writing. Guys, my fanfiction levels were off the chart in college. If you don’t believe me, go check out my AO3 (yes I am linking it) and just take a gander at how many fics were published from 2010-2014. It’s insane.

But (and yes, we’ve finally arrived at what this post is actually about!) something else was starting to happen. As I was embarking on my last two years of college, now saddled with a bunch of English lit requirements, a thought started to niggle its way into my brain. I was in college. I was an adult. I shouldn’t be reading young adult books anymore. Heck, I shouldn’t be reading anything but what came from the adult fiction section. Even adult fantasy should be strayed away from.

THESE WERE REAL THOUGHTS! I really, truly, honestly believed that I wasn’t allowed to have fun in the reading world. I thought I was supposed to stay in my lane and read what I was studying. I am going to blame this a little on my professors, who discouraged anything outside of the adult literary fiction genre. All of my fellow students were also reading adult books, though. No one else that I knew was into werewolves or magic. So I put away any hopes of reading about teenagers in love and set my sights firmly in the adult fiction section.

Lordddddd, this hairdo. I wore it constantly because I couldn’t figure out what to do with my longass hair.

During my first semester of my senior year, I had an internship at Alice James Books, which was a poetry publishing house funded by UMF. It was one of the best parts of my time at college, and I always look back on it fondly. I read every poetry book that I could get my hands on, which was pretty much the only thing that I was reading since I’d decided that I was only going to buy adult fiction. I did buy it. I just didn’t read it. I brought it with me to school, and instead I ended up reading fanfiction or rereading Harry Potter.

It’s so interesting to me now to see a bunch of bloggers that I follow getting ready to go off to college. They all have book blogs and read the things that I read now, as a 27-year-old. They’ve been voracious readers for a while now, and they’re going into college knowing what they love to read. I didn’t have that opportunity, and so it wasn’t until two years (TWO YEARS!) after I graduated that I finally started reading what I wanted to read again.

I know I read 100+ books a year now, and so this sounds a little insane, but I didn’t actually turn into a reader until December 2016. I mean, I’ve always been a reader, but I didn’t start reading the way I do now until then. I was up in northern Maine visiting my best friend, Erin, and I had this moment of I’m done. I want to read again. We went to BAM, her version of B&N, and we spent four hours in there going through the YA section. I read them so fast that I was looking to buy more only a few months later. I was finally allowing myself to read what I wanted, and it felt amazing.

Hello! This is me, circa last weekend? Yeah, sure. Either way, I’m now a person who doesn’t wear 18 colors at once and who reads EVERYTHING! I started getting into adult horror after Daniel Radcliffe was in Horns, which led to my eventual Joe Hill obsession. I briefly broke back into the adult fiction world when Cloud Atlas came out, and then promptly read every single thing David Mitchell has ever published. I destroyed every young adult subgenre I could get my hands on–urban & high fantasy, magical realism, contemporary, romance, historical, science fiction, horror. I wanted it all.

Image result for i want it all queen gif

And then February 2019 happened.

“So I guess I won’t be avoiding Austen anymore.”

Pride & Prejudice review

Six months later, I still have no idea why I suddenly decided to give Austen a chance, but I did. I buddy read it with my friend, Alex, which made it exponentially easier, and when I came out on the other end, I wasn’t unhappy? I actually had a good time? Two months later, and I kind of wanted to read another one? What is happening to me?

I was genuinely confused. I’ve spent two years now mostly avoiding adult fiction. It destroyed my love of reading throughout college and even after graduation, so when I walk into a bookstore now, I immediately gravitate toward the young adult section. The amount of unread owned adult fiction on my bookshelves is a little embarassing.

But here I was, enjoying adult fiction.

Alright, I thought. Let’s see what happens. I’m going to buddy read Sense & Sensibility, too.

“I think we can officially consider me an Austen convert because now I want to read her other four novels.”

Sense & Sensibility review

Well. I’ve got Emma slotted for this month, Northanger Abbey ready for October, a reread of Little Women in December to prepare for the upcoming film, Persuasion and Mansfield Park set to go for the first half of 2020, and the Brontë sisters on the schedule for 2020 at some point. Because I am really enjoying these “classics,” as it were. But it got me thinking. Maybe it’s time to revisit adult fiction?

As it turns out, I asked for two adult literary fiction books last Christmas–The Light Between Oceans and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Both had movies that I was interested in seeing, but I am a firm book first person, so I refused to watch the movies until I read the books. Which, with my track record with adult fiction, could be never. But after two successes with Austen, I decided to pick up the first, and I was absolutely enamored by it. The second felt perfect for my recent beach vacation, and I just binge-read 200 pages of it last night because it was wonderful.

And so, I think things have come full circle. Or, they’ve come to where they always should have been. In this longest introduction in the world, I’m here to tell you that I’m still reading an astonishing amount of young adult, but I think I’m going to try to read some adult literary fiction, too. Because I think I’m finally in a place where I’m reading what I want to read, so now maybe it’s time to explore what I thought I had to read all those years ago.

Because spoiler: you don’t have to read anything based on your field of study or your age. Just read whatever the heck you want to, and explore when you want to.

When I was in college, I got this ridiculous notion in my head that I was only allowed to read books firmly in my field of study. Despite still being a young adult, I bought only adult literary fiction. And then never read them. . As an actual adult...

For the last few months of 2019, I’m going to try to tackle these books. Some of them, like Tinker, have been on my shelf since high school, which was, at minimum, nine years ago. Some of them, like The Slippage, I was gifted by my fiction writing professor upon graduation, so it’s at least five years old. Some of them, like The Mountain of Light, I bought post-graduation when I thought I still had to read according to my age bracket. All of these are books that have been on my shelves for years, that I’ve avoided even though I thought I had to read them. But since I’m finally starting to enjoy this type of book, I want to start clearing them off of my massive unread list. (If you’re curious, I have a read your damn books shelf on Goodreads that keeps track of everything that I own unread. Yes, I am ashamed that there’s 100 books on there.)

And now, without further rambling, let’s chat about these books!


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I recently wrote a blog about Cultural Appropriation in Western Yoga, which included my journey with Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, is near and dear to my heart, and I’ve been avoiding his biography, Freedom in Exile, for a long time. I know it’s going to absolutely break my heart, so I’ve been trying to work up the courage, but nothing is ever going to prepare me for what’s going to be in here. It’s time.

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Oi, this book has got some reviews. The Slippage by Ben Greenman was gifted to me by my fiction writing professor, and I cherish her advice and tutelage dearly, so I’ve held onto this book through many unhauls. It’s had a very poor reception, and so I’m a little nervous about going into it, but I also just want to get it read and see why she gave me this specific novel. Also, you’ll notice that a lot of these don’t have descriptions because I literally don’t know what half of these books are about anymore.

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Oh, Maya. I bought this book by C.W. Huntington Jr during a phase of “read more books that take place in India!” It was probably around the same time that I was reminiscing about how much I adore The God of Small Things and wanting more books just like that. (Spoiler: nothing is ever going to be that poignant.) I don’t know what this is about other than it’s set in India in the 70s, so sounds like a good time.

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I can tell you exactly nothing about Tinkers by Paul Harding. Oh look, it won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s small and very white. I don’t know why I bought it. I don’t know what it’s about. But it’s unread and I own it, so time to give it a whirl.

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey is probably one of the only ones on this list that I know, definitively, that I’m going to like. I read half of it for a class in college, though I can’t remember which, and I know that I enjoyed it. We ran out of time, though, and never finished it, and it’s been so long that I can’t remember what happened. I also own another book by Livesey that’s going to show up on a list identical to this next year, so I’m excited to get back to these.

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Okay, so I lied. I’m probably also going to enjoy On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Atonement is probably one of my favorite adult literary fiction books, and this is another instance of reading the book before the movie. The movie looked like another The Light Between Oceans and The Deep Blue Sea vibe (man, I wish that had a book and not just a play), so I marked it as something to eventually get around to. I recently got rid of a few McEwan books that held no interest for me, but kept this one, so time to get around to it.

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Another set in India book! The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan has a gorgeous cover, is set in one of my favorite countries, and that’s about all I know about it. Who knows, maybe I’ll find some new favorites in this adventure.

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My mom gave me The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls many, many years ago. I think I was probably in high school. I don’t know why, but she so rarely gifts me books that I want to finally peer into this.


And those are the adult literary fiction (and nonfiction) books that I’m hoping to read before the end of 2019! Have you read any of them? Have you ever done this to yourself, said that you’re only allowed to read certain books based on your age? Let me know in the comments below!

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Mary RYT 200 Tibetan Buddhism Gryffindor Part-time witch, full-time novelist. Lover of words, planets, dragons, and mountains.

12 thoughts on “College Lessons: You Don’t Have to Read Based on Your Age

  1. This is so interesting to me, because I always felt like my reading aged up with me naturally. Obviously, that isn’t how it is for everyone, and I do still read some YA, but for the most part, as I’ve grown older, I’ve wanted the characters I read about to be older too. The most dissatisfied I ever remember being in my reading life was when I was right in the middle of teenager-hood. I no longer really related to most of the YA I picked up, but I couldn’t really relate to the adults I was reading about when I tried adult fiction either. I spent a lot of that time reading more genre-heavy adult than I necessarily gravitate toward now, I think because it was easier to relate to adults in crazy situations (like the house is alive kind of horror — long, long days of Stephen King for a while there — and even murder mystery, which I never read now) than the ones who were just going through everyday adult life. I remember feeling this massive sense of relief when adult novels suddenly seemed to make a lot more sense to me, because I had a home in the fiction I was reading again. Anyway, I didn’t mean to go off for so long, but this topic got me thoughtful! I’m glad you’re finding that you’re enjoying some literary stuff lately, it’s definitely one of my favorite things to read!

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    1. I’m so glad to hear that you had a kind of vaguely similar experience! Or at least that reading is not always linear, and that we get in these weird mindsets about it.

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  2. Great post! I like what C.S. Lewis has to say on the matter as well:

    “They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed.”

    (I’m re-reading Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief right now so this post was very timely!)

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  3. Great post!! I’m very much in the same boat, I read and enjoy both YA and Adult. Pleasure reading is for enjoyment and I figure as long as I’m enjoying reading something I’m going to read it, lol. Even have some creative-sounding middle grade on the TBR. I clicked on your post after seeing The Glass Castle in that stack, finished it this month, it’s a great book.

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    1. Oh, I love middle grade! I only started getting into MG within the last year or so, too, and it’s been such a blast.

      Good to know! I can’t wait to dig into it.

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  4. I agree with this post one-hundred percent! I was able to start reading regularly again because I decided to go back to fairytales and middle-grade novels. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. They give that warm, fuzzy feeling other books simply can’t match up to. I can’t believe I ever stopped reading them!

    Read what you want. Write what you want. Be who you want. And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!

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  5. hehe well good the college applications worked out, despite nearly giving your mum a heart attack 😉 Ah I do understand the “oh i shouldnt be reading (or writing) YA/fantasy, cos you know, gotta get serious”- I had it for about 5 minutes (made my mum really happy as well, cos she’s never understood my obsession with dragons and magic) buuut then I went and got a bunch of fantasy ideas and decided to go even further down that road (why do anything in half measures, amiright? 😉 ) It’s so funny though- cos I also felt like adult fiction in uni drove me back to YA and now I feel like I’m going full circle, reading more adult fiction again! Hope you enjoy your reads! I relate so much to this post and I couldn’t agree more that ultimately you should just read what you want- whatever your age!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, yes, go big or go home! That’s always how I’ve been with writing, and so happy to be in that mindset with reading now.

      I’ve definitely go through a similar cycle, adult to YA and (kind of) back to adult. Maybe it’ll all circle again eventually, who knows!

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