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Free-reading is reading completely for pleasure with no other motive. Reading for class (or work) is definitely notfree-reading. Neither is reading a book that you feel that "educated people" should have read, because you're reading it to be able to say you read it, not for enjoyment. If you're free-reading a book, you're reading it because you like it, because it absorbs you; other reasons, such as class or "education", are secondary at best. A key indication that you're free-reading instead of "forced-reading" is that when you're free-reading, you don't want to stop. Most of the time, free-reading material is fiction, but it can be anything from philology to sociology to science fiction, depending on people's personal interests.

Free-reading is a relatively foreign concept to the University of Chicago. Most people here read either for class or to be well-read. It's really easy to get caught up in class-work and not read anything I'm not assigned to read because I don't have time to do it. If I do make some time, it's very tempting to read the "Great Works", mostly philosophy, because of a wierd manifestation of peer pressure. In class, other students will casually mention works by Descartes, Locke, Plato, or any other Great Mind, works that aren't assigned in any core class. Apparently they read these books in high school, and I didn't. I don't want to be left out or left behind or appear any less well-read than them, so I spend my hard-earned free time reading some book I have to force myself to read, instead of something I truly want to read.

I have recently begun free-reading Richard Matheson's Hell House, which I am enjoying immensely. The experience of free-reading is very different from the experience of reading for class; it's much more absorbing and much more fun. Last year, I free-read a lot, and I'd like to start doing that again this year. I would never keep myself from sleeping to read just one more chapter of Locke's Second Treatise on Government, but I read many pages of Hell House last night when I should have been sleeping. If I have less time to do my homework, fine. Free-reading makes me a happier and less stressful person.

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