On Reading as a Grad Student

This year I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I’d read. I’ve done this before (and I’ll write more about why at the end of the year), but not consistently (I’ll write about that too). I had a look over the reading list for this year and was struck by how few books I put on the list from my thesis reading.

It’s November and there are only 8 books that I’d read from cover to cover. I found that somewhat surprising – but on reflection, not at all surprising.

The PhD is a peculiar beast, as I’d noted elsewhere, which means that the kind of research you do for it is also peculiar. I simply don’t have time to read every secondary text in full, no matter how much I’d like to. Indexes are my friends – I look for the discussion of what I’m working on, get the arguments I need and move on.

I devote much more time to primary sources – I try to make sure I read the texts I’m actually writing about very carefully and usually more than once (except Malebranche’s the Search After Truth because it’s an absolute brick).

This reflection on reading reminded me of a passage I’d read in Malebranche’s text recently:

“There are people thirty years of age who quote more evil books for you in their works than they could have read in several centuries, and nevertheless they hope to convince others that they have read them very closely.”

Thanks Nicolas, I feel seen.

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