Attack of the 600+-page books!

It goes without saying that reading, and reading ALL THE TIME, goes hand in hand with the pursuit of a PhD. I think I realized this within the first few weeks of my first semester. I fondly remember uploading this picture on Facebook after realizing that, in the world of the PhD student, a “weekend” translates to: a time to desperately try to catch up on reading requirements only to fail miserably.

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This picture was followed by several other reading-related gems:

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Into my second year, and facing down the inevitable “comprehensive exams” next fall, reading has taken on a whole new meaning. One of the key problems is, literally, remembering it all. The books that I’m reading now will certainly be important later on, but recalling an exact argument, historical methodology, and examples from a variety of sources is a tall order.

Another issue is time, and I’m sure most PhD students run into this problem–how to read a large quantity of material in a short time AND be able to discuss it competently. I’m not sure I have the answer, although I do find that I am getting through a decent amount of material without too much trouble.

Recently, long books have been the order of the day. I have a rather divided opinion about books that are 500+ pages on the same topic. Some of them seem to go over and over the same basic argument with new examples set over a longer period of time. These books feel like a slog–it’s like eating the same bowl of lukewarm, bland soup over and over again. I find, however, that is it the interesting books that are the most challenging. Authors who offer new and interesting ideas throughout are often engaging writers, but that can distract from the fact that, as a PhD student, I cannot peruse the book at my leisure, even if I find that I am closely reading several particularly interesting sections of the book. I have to constantly remind myself of a time limit, often self-imposed, to complete the book, no matter how interesting it is. I’d like to think that if I were to mark passages that I like for future reading, I would actually go back and read them, but given the looming deadlines at hand, that may be more idealistic than realistic.

Fortunately, we’re moving on to some shorter, although no less important, offerings. I’m hoping that my “marathon reading days,” when one book, no matter how many hours spent, ends up not quite finished yet, are over for now.

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8 thoughts on “Attack of the 600+-page books!

  1. Wow, 600+ pages. I read a lot of technical material (I’m into data center work) so I can relate to those numbers. While I learned how to read and comprehend quickly, i still get lost at times and have to put the book down and walk away for a day or so. How do you cope with reading-burn-out?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I have a good answer for it. What’s motivating me right now is “abject fear” associated with looming comprehensive exams. However, I can say that taking a number of “mini breaks” when you read milestones (page 100, 150, etc.) has been an effective strategy for me. I usually get up, move around, try to do something useful, and return to the reading within about 20 minutes. It makes the reading feel more like it comes in digestible chunks than in one massive feast. I’ve also learned more about skimming techniques since I’ve started reading these books, and setting feasible goals per day. Not a perfect system, to be sure, but, I think it does help one cope.

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  2. Clifford’s tower? There was a 1950’s ice cream van at the bottom of it when we visited last summer, not quite so ancient but a welcome oasis for families and hard-pressed students. I decided an MA at 60 was enough for the time being, and my Latin is too rusty to be trusty. Besides, I need to learn Polish to speak with the in-laws-to-be.

    We have a few mediaeval buildings too, with a hint of Roman here and there, waiting for Augustine to wake them up and Thomas to popularise the place.

    I leave PhD work to my daughter; seeing her efforts, I can sympathise with you. I hope you enjoy some of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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