The kind of reading you do matters a lot to the kind of scholarship you are doing. The classic image of the scholar is someone poring carefully over a text, parsing each phrase and glossing every paragraph. A scholar isolated from the world around, unburdened by cares. I expect few academics can or do much of this close reading, though it can bear fruit. An intense reading of a text everyone refers to but everyone read so long ago that they have forgotten what is in it can be fruitful. What did Marx really say about the labour theory of value? Did he say it differently somewhere else? Did Foucault ever define what a clinic is? Questioning established common sense is a good habit and effective when you go back to the source. Be not cowed by what everyone knows.
There are many helpful guides to going about a literature review. I’m taking another approach here. These questions are a survey of reading habits and attitudes. They are to allow you to reflect on the kind of reading you do. This is as much about who you are as a scholar as it is about the kind of research you are doing.
- Do you enjoy academic reading? What aspects do you like and what do you like less?
- Do you ever find the meaning or significance of a reading to be elusive? Is reading ever tiring or ever gives you a funny kind of distanced feeling in your brain? Is it time for a nap?
- Do you ever rely on someone else having read something and explained it? Do you sometimes still not ‘get it’ even after that?
- Do you ever feel guilty about reading? About what?
- What do you write when you are reading? Where do you keep your notes?
- Do you ever avoid primary texts and rely on secondary explanations, but pretend you have fully read and absorbed the primary text?
- What voice do you hear in your head when reading, if you hear one at all?
- Do you look at the bibliography of the text you are reading? Do you check their references?
- How often do you pause during reading? Do your reading aims grow faster than your reading capacity?
- Do you exclude readings based on titles or abstracts?
- What characteristics of a text do you find particularly appealing, and in contrast, are there any that are alienating? Be honest, we all hate something about the text and skip over it and hope that it wasn’t that significant or that the authors weren’t hoping you skate over it as well.
- Footnotes: yes or no?
- What’s the proportion of texts you cite to texts you have genuinely read?
- Do you ever run out of time to read? What do you do then? Do you ever spend too much time reading the first few pages and then have to rattle through the rest and hope it doesn’t contain any nasty surprises?
For further questions you can ask about your reading, this is a really good reflective tool which inspired my thinking for this blog post: Navigating the page. An academic guide to effective reading http://edshare.soton.ac.uk/4064/1/navigating_the_page.pdf