Catching the deluge in a paper cup

It was listening to Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb that got me thinking about the name for this post. If you don’t know about their podcast Chat 10, Looks 3 you really need to get listening to it and your life will be immeasurably better. They talk about books, baking, tv, movies, politics, life – what’s not to love? Check them out on @Chat10Looks3.

So I was walking around the lake listening to a podcast from last year where they were talking about reading and writing, and about how they keep up with (or don’t as the case may be) with all the new books that are on the market. Sales described it as trying to capture water with a thimble and that of course made me think of the line from the Crowded House song. It resonated with me as I’ve just come off a holiday break where I tried to capture some of the deluge that had overtaken my bedside table.

Throughout 2015 I’d started and successfully not finished a whole range of books which were living precariously on my bedside table. There were a lot of reasons for this and let’s face it, for a lot of us, 2015 was pretty shoddy and best not talked about in any great detail. But this reading situation was getting wildly out of control. It was also mirrored on my desk at work where I realised I was starting to become the stereotype of the nutty professor who has piles of books and papers emerging from every conceivable space like stalactmites. It was starting to look like I’d pulped and printed an entire old growth forest and I was none too happy about this.

Enter the Christmas/ New Year break and my renewed determination to do some reading. The road to hell is paved with good intentions apparently and I had a lot of  good reading intentions. I’m a firm believer in the value of reading for writing, and virtuously tell all my students that they CANNOT be good writers, unless they are readers. It’s a maxim I’ve reeled out since I was a high school teacher and I use it now when working with HDR students. It’s just that in 2015 I’d failed horribly at taking my own advice.

One of my friends @Siobhan_ODwyer has written about the value of reading for academics and has written a great post about non-required reading for PhD students that you can find here: Siobhan’s list highlights the value of reading a variety of forms and this is something I totally agree with. Fiction, non-fiction, cereal boxes. There’s so many words to be read and so little time to read them all.

Enter the break and I ploughed my way through a series of half-finished books. Tim Winton’s Island Home: A landscape memoir was first on the list, followed hot on the heels by Drusilla Modjeska’s Second half first, then I finished off George Megalogenis’s Australia’s Second Chance, then it was onto Kendrah Morgan and Lesley Harding’s biography Modern Love: The lives of John and Sunday Reed. I bought and consumed Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger makes me a modern girl in an afternoon.

There’s nothing like working your way through a reading list to give you a hit of validation and so I’ve entered 2016 with a renewed determination to keep my reading practice going. Reading makes me learn more about the world and I find myself questioning to fill in the gaps I don’t know (which perhaps annoys my friends who get messages from me saying ‘hey can you tell me about this? I don’t understand/ know about it’). It influences my writing as I think about the features I like in other people’s writing. When I read a sentence that is so beautifully written that my teeth ache then I try to work out what it is about that sentence that has such an impact. Is it the artful combination of words? Is it the way that the words connect emotionally? Is it the way that a concept is described? I become a bower bird, fossicking away ideas and thinking about how I might employ them in my own writing. The question of whether academic writing should and can be beautiful is best left for another post, so park that thought and we’ll get back to it.

So as I head into 2016 I’m taking my good reading intentions with me. So how am I planning on capturing the deluge? Well each day, I’m going to read from the paper cup so to speak. At one point late last year I got on board with #365papers. Now, I don’t know the genesis of this but the concept of reading one paper a day was a great way to get my reading habits and towers under control. I found I could keep up with the reading in my field and when writing a paper recently I was using many of the papers I’d read in my #365papers stint. So, I’m seeing if I can keep it going this year – one paper a day. As for that bedside table? Well I’m becoming all nightclub bouncer on it. Strictly a one in, one out policy. No getting onto the bedside table unless a book has recently departed from that space. I don’t want to end up squished by a pile of unread book shame and this is one way of dealing with it.

What works for you? How do you capture the deluge of reading?



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