Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thoughts about post-dissertation reading...

I have been curious for quite some time about what my reading life would be like after I finished the dissertation. My reading patterns while working on the diss for the last 2 1/2 years, and during the last 10 years that I have been in graduate school (not just for the PhD), have been typical of my personality. I would read and work like mad on course or dissertation related materials. Then, my mind would rebel, and I would indulge in a few weeks of reading YA or romance novels. I always came back to my studies, but reading the fun books was a type of relaxation and recharging for me. I am a big believer in this if you are a graduate student. Reading something completely fantastical or unrealistic or romantic always recharged me. I went back to my dissertation ready to explore new ideas and full of energy. I would often dream of the day when I didn't have to worry about the dissertation...when I wouldn't be obligated to read 800-page Victorian novels. So, I just knew that after the diss was complete that I would indulge in the biggest pleasure reading fest EVER.

And what happened? Well, the month of October was quite busy for me at work--lots of travel and work deadlines. So, I managed to squeeze in a Stuart Woods novel (and I have begun another). I read two YA books. But what was the first book I turned to? A classic. Yep. That is right. I became obsessed with Brideshead Revisited. Then, while I was in Mobile a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I had left my book at home (frantic packing), so I managed to find a bookstore and bought Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White (something I read partially a long time ago...but I have wanted to really read it for a long time). I am puzzled as to why I chose these two, but I have been thinking about it, and this is what I have come up with:

I chose Brideshead Revisited for two reasons:
1. I saw the movie and became more interested. Plus, I love to watch footage and read novels about Oxford.
2. After watching the movie, I loved the differences I saw between its (and the novel's) orphan character (who is post-Victorian) and those I had studied. It was something different, and I needed that in my life.


Then, in Mobile, I was placed in an environment where I needed to feel something familiar. The exhaustion of the defense and dissertation had worn off, and I was at a history conference surrounded by historians. I should explain that some historians think that literature scholars are ridiculous and that our field is not justifiable. "You just make things up," is something I have heard more than once...and even once at the conference when someone heard that I just defended my lit dissertation. Anyway, I just laugh it off, but I don't understand how people can think this way. I love history and it is so important. And literature is equally important to history studies, because books tell us the non-factual but equally important human emotional side to history. Anyway, suffice it to say that I felt a little trapped, so I think that is what caused me to buy the Collins book. It is like a comfort food.

So, why spend an entire blog post on this? Well, I think that what we read is not only important in terms of defining us intellectually or personally. I think that books have a very real power to feed us and comfort us in very important ways. What we connect with is important, and I can't believe that anyone would discount how that fits in with human history. It goes beyond popular culture. It is just human culture. The fact that books written over 100 years ago still have the power to move us implies that there is something excruciatingly human about these stories--something that facts can't relay in full. Anyway, that is my little exploration of this topic for now, rambling though it may be. I will keep you posted.

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