“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
Hey readers! If you'd like to have an account on this site (so that you can post comments), or for further information about what you see here, get in touch through the contact page.
I've been struggling with my own approaches to reading lately. I've become lazy, in short, and I'm not keeping track of what I read (see the reading log to the right) and what's important about it in a clear way that makes things easy to return to. I've been contemplating switching the reading log into wordpress, or also making a [company's] form for myself so that I go and get a prompt/tailor-made fields to fill in when I finish a book--to remember to cling to the important parts of what I'm reading. I got a helpful list of things to track from a colleague and I think I might try their approach to each item read for a while to see how that feels: capturing the bibliographic information, key terms, a precis, reflection, and quotes. All the times I have done exercises like this in the past while reading my brain clung to the importance of the content in a much better way than the fly-by-night methods I've been using lately.
Hand in hand with this, I am selling off every book in my personal library that doesn't feel earth-shatteringly essential for later use. Or every book I bought because I intended to read it and it looked so good but haven't yet. If I haven't read it yet, I can get it from the library, and if I don't read it in during the loan period chances are I never will. I feel guilty when people come over and assume that they can see anything but future research on my shelves (which probably isn't tantalizing to most people--I have read novels and comics, but I hardly own any now), but I just can't see hanging on to all of these things. And books are definitely the only remaining place where legacies of hoarding might still be getting worked out.
I had been buying books and underlining, using the margins for notes. Then I went to a pal's new office and saw all their copies of their books with post-its throughout. They pulled a book down they thought they hadn't read and their notes led them back to the work. It was a ridiculous moment, wherein I was like "OH, SHIT, Post-it notes are not permanent! I can get library books and not fuck them up!" Of course I have seen post-its in the past, often in books, but I just hadn't ever really used them in this reading/capturing process. And also post-its + book + pen are hard to juggle on the train. But maybe I need to rethink how I approach academic reading in general. Maybe it should never take place on the train. Although I have been reading The Art of Slow Writing on my commute lately (highly recommended), and dog-earing passages for later.
The true post-it process does require keeping the books, though, which I don't plan to do in most cases. Which means I need a container for where the notes go once the book goes back. I'm finding this site tired and in need of updating all around, but I think I might also want a little more privacy with my own notes. I have a bunch of projects in EverNote, but the more I put there, the less I like the architecture of organizing in that space. I hate having word documents floating about disconnected, even if a copy lives in an accessible location. I want all the notes in the same place, searchable, in the cloud for working in multiple places on multiple machines.
I once heard someone who I went to grad school with and who is now a doctoral candidate (no surprise) explain how they read every academic text three times--once as a wash, a second time to get at the important bits, and a third time for extraction (or something along those lines). I think that process might transform any project I have into a much much slower art of writing, but I am sure that this method forces a deep understanding of a text that I worry I often miss with a speedy survey.
Feels like I'm doing the front work to figure out where to keep everything, so that then I can go and do the work. Or I'm procrastinating by turning everything into organization, rather than research itself, let alone writing. And an excuse to go buy some post-its. Minnesota, Mining and Minerals!
This work is licensed under a Attribution Share Alike Creative Commons license