Reading Japanese is a solitary activity, but by no means did I learn to read on my own. If not for the generosity of several brave and patient souls who helped me struggle through different texts, I would never have developed the foundation necessary to read on my own.

I had a number of great Japanese teachers in college, but I wanted to be reading 小説 (shōsetsu, novels) and ノンフィクション (nonfikushon, nonfiction), not 新聞記事 (shinbun kiji, newspaper articles) and 物語 (monogatari, tales/legends).

Don't get me wrong, though: These were useful introductory texts, and it is extremely important to read outside of your areas of interest. Newspapers in particular are useful because they help you tap in to current trends and events, things that you're likely to discuss at ホームパーティー (hōmupātii, dinner parties); knowing these phrases will feed your burgeoning speaking skills. However, it's also important to have defined goals and interests that will drive your pursuit of fluency well after you've left the classroom.