DePaul students unwind over break by reading without school pressure


The interior of after-words bookstore, an independent shop in downtown.

After weeks of final projects, essays and tests, DePaul students need ways to unwind. When you find yourself compensating for all the stress by vegging on the couch this holiday season, think about picking up a book to fill the time. Some of DePaul’s resident bookworms have good input about where to find your next new story to curl up with.

Professor and poet Jennifer Finstrom, in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse department at DePaul, is wrapping up a challenge to read 85 books in a year this December — and she’s one book ahead.

This appetite for reading did not come out of nowhere. Finstrom’s grandmother was a librarian, and her mom started taking her to the library before she could read, at just three months old. Reading was a part of her family culture and it quickly infiltrated daily routine.

“This always sounds weird to people, but I’m an only child, so me, my mom, and my dad would literally eat dinner and all be reading our own things,” she said. “We would still talk a bit, but my dad would be reading the paper, my mom would be reading her library book, I would be reading whatever I was reading. It was just normal and companionable.”

As well as professors encouraging pleasure reading, DePaul’s librarians emphasize reading for mental health purposes. Krystal Lewis is a research librarian with DePaul, which means she helps students to navigate the library’s resources to write papers. Growing up, she loved to read mystery novels, like Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and The Three Investigators.

“I think my affinity for mysteries is what makes being an academic librarian so interesting,” she said. “I get to help users find answers to their research questions, which is kind of like solving a mystery.”

She likes to read at the lake or in the shade of Logan Boulevard in Logan Square, where she lives, or curled up under a blanket with tea at home when it’s colder.

Whether books are part of a profession or just a hobby, they can help us in many ways and even make us better people. Finstrom said she sees reading as a form of reflection and growth.

“It gives you multiple different ways to expand your worldview and connect to yourself, so I think it both goes outward and inward,” she said. “[Books allow us] to learn things, to see things from other perspectives, to get different perspectives on the way that we navigate our own life and our own choices.”

DePaul sophomore Lily Baird feels the same. She enjoys nonfiction books about politics and the environment, and historical and literary fiction.

“I like reading books because I feel like I’m learning something new from every story I read,” she said.

Reading has academic benefits as well.

“It can help you develop your vocabulary and practice critical thinking,” according to Lewis.

But for DePaul students, with finals still close in the rearview mirror, reading might be most appealing simply for pleasure. For Lewis, reading offers relaxation and escape.

“There’s nothing like a good book to immerse yourself in to forget about your daily life, and for me, it really helps me drown out all the commotion on the bus commute to the library,” she said.

Baird also likes to use books to unwind, paired with a calming or refreshing drink.

“By far my favorite comfort read in the wintertime is ‘Little Women,’ and reading with a warm cup of earl grey or jasmine tea is always perfect,” she said. “In the summer, an iced matcha with lemonade is the perfect companion to a cheesy romance or mysterious fast-paced thriller.”

Finstrom said she reads in different ways at different times. She noticed that she was “voraciously” reading for an escape when she was going through a divorce, and later during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“That was because I was in an unpleasant time and I didn’t have people around me,” she said. “It helped me feel connected to the world.”

Right now, she’s reading more selectively; she says she’s more “aware of books that are coming out, books that are winning awards.”

She recommended the Book of the Month Club, which sends you your choice of one of five new releases.

Online libraries and e-readers like Kindles also tend to offer recommendations to help readers find out what’s out there.

Lewis said magazines and newspapers tend to publish annual best books lists, like NPR’s Books We Love (formerly Book Concierge). Goodreads is another helpful website centered on book reviews and what’s popular in the reading community.

Both DePaul libraries, in Lincoln Park and the Loop, have recreational reading collections for students to explore called Unwind the Mind. Any books checked out now will not be due back until winter quarter starts in January, so even students from other states can take some home over break.

The Chicago Public Library has two branches right next to DePaul’s two campuses. In the Loop, the Brown Line has a stop specifically for the Harold Washington Library, on State and Van Buren. In Lincoln Park, the library is across the street from the Theater School, “in the same building as the health clinic,” according to Lewis.

“They always have tons of the most popular books,” she said. “I highly recommend that all students here at DePaul get a Chicago Public Library card.”

However you read, and however often, break can be a great time to pick up a book. It doesn’t need to be your 85th volume of the year — even if you haven’t read a book since you were a kid, it can be a fun hobby to pick back up.

Because of DePaul’s wonderful librarians and the power of Google, there are many tools available to find the perfect book this holiday season. These are some of my personal favorites to jumpstart your search.

Science Fiction: “Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card

  • You won’t be bored by this novel; it’s very intense and has a good twist at the end. Set in a future space war with a child prodigy turned military general, it’s as deep and sad as it is geeky.

Teen Fiction: “Six of Crows,” Leigh Bardugo

  • Teen books can be really good, and if you enjoyed this kind of thing in high school it can be fun to come back to. This book is a fantasy heist with unique, fleshed-out character dynamics.

Realistic Fiction: “The Goldfinch,” Donna Tartt

  • This exquisitely written novel follows New Yorker Theodore Decker as he grows up and is whisked around the world by his family and a piece of stolen art that is his last tie to his dead mother. Tartt will really draw you into the settings, and weaves complex relationships between Theo and the other characters.

Classic: “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Kurt Vonnegut

  • This scattered but meaningful book uses flashbacks and sci-fi episodes to explore a veteran’s experience before, during and after surviving the bombing of Dresden in World War II, drawn from some of Vonnegut’s own past.

Historical Fiction: “All the Light We Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr

  • This World War II novel follows Marie-Laure, a blind girl from Paris, and Werner, an orphan from Germany, as they grow up and find small things to treasure amid the horrors of war. Read this if you like a book that makes you cry but isn’t just a tear-jerker, and don’t mind an element of myth.

Nonfiction: “Outcasts United,” Warren St. John

  • This inspiring long-form journalism feature story follows a youth soccer team formed in a small southern town newly flooded with refugees.

Mystery: “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins

  • A woman romanticizes a couple she sees out the window of the train on her daily commute, and starts to involve herself in their lives when she sees something suspicious. This suspenseful book deals with trust, death, guilt, abuse and how relationships can haunt us.

Poetry: “Helium,” Rudy Francisco

  • This collection of poems is a quick, beautiful read. Francisco shares introspective content about art, relationships and growing up as an African American in San Diego.


Amber Stoutenborough, Arts & Life Editor, contributed to this article.