Friday, May 16, 2008

Foraging/Summer Reading

Writing a dissertation involves a lot of what my director calls foraging. Having worked on my dissertation for a year and a day, I appreciate this distinction more than ever between foraging and reading, even if "reading" remains too capacious a practice to pin down. Foraging (i.e., picking back through stacks of stuff one has already read before, already encountered) is necessary for writing a dissertation, but I don't find that it brings with it the same sort of inventive lift I find in reading new stuff. Yet, striking a reasonable balance between the two--between, that it, revisiting familiar materials and ideas and taking up new materials and ideas--has been tremendously difficult. In 366 days of dissertating, I have foraged well enough to draft several chapters and revise two of them sufficiently that they're off to committee. What I haven't done well enough is read new stuff that's not directly involved in the dissertation. Sure, I suppose some of this is unavoidable, but it nevertheless has felt like a void, especially so because it follows on the heels of coursework and preparing for comprehensive exams--three years of intensively reading new gatherings of texts that gravitate like this <---> rather than --><--. Another way to put it: reading up to the dissertation favors centrifugal force (i.e., tends away from center) rather than centripetal force (i.e., tends toward the center). When I have that feeling of mental drought, I believe it is--in part--because of not enough of this first sort of reading (whatever forms it might take: books, journal articles, blogs, etc.).

I still have some dissertation left to write. Thus, there will be more foraging this summer, more orbits around familiar work. But I also want to renew some of the purely-for-the-spark-of-it reading that I have been missing. Might be too ambitious to hope for a whole lot of time for this in the summer months given that I am teaching a course, working in the writing center, mentoring three new online instructors, wrapping up the draft of the diss, polishing job materials, and traveling to Seattle, Albuquerque, and Hershey, Pa., and, as importantly, grilling out, sipping margaritas, playing bolo toss, cutting the lawn, and so on, but that's a chance I must take. For summer reading, then, the start of a list:

*A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah (SU shared reading)
Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky
The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink
For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals, Wayne Booth
^PrairyErth (a deep map), William Least Heat-Moon (Is this for this diss?)
A Counter-History of Composition, Byron Hawk (Is this?)
The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson (How about this?)
The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam (Might this?)

* I still need to pick up a copy of this.
^ This one's underway. A few striking moments in the first one-third (up to where I am now). On the other hand, it will push you to the brink of toxicity with details about Chase County, Kansas.

To end, I should add a nod of credit to those who have said interesting things about one or more of these books and, thus, recommended them.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 16, 2008 3:15 PM to Reading Notes

I'm going back and forth between Byron's book and Ghost Map right now. Interesting stuff. For good or bad, I think everything you read will have the potential to become grist for the diss. mill.

Such is life.

Posted by: Alex Reid at May 18, 2008 6:43 AM

Whatever keeps the mill wheel turning, yeah?

And yet, I fancy reading some stuff with no bearing whatsoever from time to time.

Posted by: Derek at May 20, 2008 2:03 PM