A Little Light Reading

Most academics like to read. Most English professors (or those who want to be) enjoy reading and writing about reading and reading about reading and reading about writing… Sometimes the merry-go-round goes round so much you want to puke.

Here is a suggestion for academics that provides a strategy for getting hold of a subject and one which has blessed my life (though it may not be visible in my publications) as you can see on TCE by following old sets of threads.

The post:

Mangojuice, you mentioned that you were going to do some reading over the summer.  Here’s a suggestion (it was one of the most helpful assignments I got early in grad school):

Choose a minor work that you know reasonably well, and read everything published on it in the last 25-50 years (keeping the amount manageable is why you choose a minor work). 

As you read, take note of the following:

What are the major issues that have been addressed in the scholarship?  
What are the major differences in interpretation represented in the scholarship?
What are the major differences in theoretical approach represented?  
What are the trends in interpretation/theoretical approach over the time period you’re reading?
Given what’s gone before, what seem to be the most knotty unsolved issues and the best questions for future research?

In doing this, you’re not looking for specific evidence to support an argument you already have in mind, but getting an overview of the scholarly conversation on the work and seeing where you might usefully enter that conversation.

Also, notice the range in quality of published work.  Which scholars do you admire most, and what qualities does that research and writing have?  How far from producing that kind of work are you right now?

I learned a tremendous amount from this exercise.  It was both humbling (because of the articles I would have given a limb to have written) and encouraging (even early in grad school, I could have written some of the stuff I read).  I ended up both knowing that I could certainly publish someday and knowing I had a long way to go to be able to publish the kind of work I wanted to publish.

caesura. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2454.” 22 April 2011, chronicle.com,www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2445.html.

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