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--Audre Lorde

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Reading Reflection Repositories

Submitted by alycia on Fri, 09/04/2015 - 10:24

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!

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