Monday, April 4, 2011

Post-Doctoral Education

People always ask me why I study reading, and the easy answer is "because I love it."  And I really do.  I can spend an entire day just sitting and reading, and I am perfectly happy.  When I have free time, I enjoy loitering in bookstores and reading errant chapters of unfamiliar novels.  

Of course, reading in graduate school is not the same as reading for fun.  Over the past seven (yes, seriously, seven) years that I have spent as a professional student, I have read thousands of pages.  I have read books, journal articles, reviews, drafts of my peers' and my own essays--so much stuff!  When I look through my filing cabinets and bookshelves, I am astonished to think about the volume of text I have interacting with, and the amount of time I have spent doing so.  And it is all academic reading, things that were given to me, assigned to me, or chosen for their utility in my field of research. It was all (well, mostly) very interesting, but not exactly what I would categorize as "fun" reading.  

So, naturally, when I finally completed my dissertation a few weeks ago, the first thing I thought about was reading for fun!  For years I have been unable to spend the time I would like on pleasure reading, and because of that I am very behind in what I see as my "must read" list for my life.  In order to get moving on that list, I sent an email out to three people whose taste in literature I trust and asked them for recommendations.  

What I got was a little more intense than I had expected.  I had expected one or two titles, and because these three guys are pretty similar in their tastes and world-views (total nerds) I figured that they would all pretty much send me the same titles.  Instead, I got somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 titles in response to my initial email, and have been pointed towards at least another 10 books in random conversations.  

The majority of the books fit squarely in the sci-fi and fantasy realms, with a few outliers in Russian literature and the classics.  I happily accepted all of these recommendations, dutifully writing down new titles as they are sent to me, and blissfully filling the memory banks of my Kindle when I should be graded papers and working on my revisions.  

In the past few weeks, however, I have begun to feel that this is not, in fact, the pleasure reading book list that I had intended it to be.  For one thing, it is HUGE.  And I, having poor time management skills and almost no ability to focus on a single point for any length of time, am finding it almost physically painful to read a single book at a time.  I want to read them all, right away, today in fact.  Currently, I am in the middle of two books, and that doesn't even include at least four other books that I was already reading before this list came into existence.  
The other alarming development is the inconsistency of my nerdy mentors.  They, like me, seem unable to agree with a reasonable order for my book list.  Somedays I need to be reading Cryponomicon.  But, well, no, don't start there because you just read Stevenson's other book and it will be too much.  Read The Wise Man's Fear first because I want to talk to you about; but that's a sequel so make sure you read the first book again so you remember all the details.  No, start with American Gods because you loved Percy Jackson and we all think it is trash.  Okay, guys, seriously...just pick something already!!  But they won't, so I am reading two books at once, trying to get to a third before someone adds anything else to the list!  

And, they are becoming a little persistent about my progress.  Mostly, it is gentle reminders and questions, such as "So, where are you in [that book] now?"  "Oh, you haven't started it yet?"  Disappointed look heads my way.  "Well, I was really hoping that you would read that because A) I want to talk to you about it; B) HBO is making a show about it and we all need to watch it together; C) I told you to read it, why haven't you done it yet?"  And then the prodding becomes slightly less subtle: "So, now that you are done with school, exactly what are you doing all day?"  

I find that I have created a situation for myself here that is not entirely unlike my previous, academic situation.  I have a lengthy, challenging syllabus in front of me; I have spent an unreasonable amount of money on my textbooks; each of them has their own agenda for my reading; and they don't seem to understand that I have other things to do in my life than my reading list!!  And when I pointed this out to one of my nerdy mentors, his only response to me was...

"Ah...well we're each of us teaching a grad class. You're just the only chump to sign up for all three at once."

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