Books vs Papers

And I don’t mean textbooks. I mean books that you read for fun. Books that have absolutely nothing to do with your research.

I love reading. And I’m notorious for reading anything and everything. But, since I started reading, my favorites have always been mysteries. I love the suspense. I love getting caught in the story, seeing if I can solve the case before the characters. I even love the ones that freak me out to the point where I sleep with my light on (although haven’t done that in years :P).

But reading papers is just another beast. I don’t think theres anything quite like – except for other scholarly reading, such as textbooks. There’s something that seems to happen when people write papers or textbooks, or really any writing that is done specifically to convey ideas in an academic setting. The work always ends up being dull. It’s hard to get into. It doesn’t flow quite right. If you happen to lose focus and keep reading, you can never figure out what you glossed over without re-reading.

When reading a book, I’ll often tell myself just to the end of the chapter, then you really have to go to bed. And five chapters later I’ll turn off the light. I won’t even realize until maybe chapter four that I’ve missed the ends of the previous chapters, I’m just so engrossed in what I’m reading. I’ve never, ever, had that happen with academic writing. Instead, I end up constantly checking to see how much closer I am to the end. The desperate plea of “please let me be done.”

I will willingly re-read books. I’ve read some of my favorites books well over five times each. I pick up on new details. Try to catch on the little hints the writer dropped that I missed in previous readings. Or just enjoy the unraveling of the story and how the author still manages to suck me in. I have never re-read a paper without a ton of groans and do-I-have-too’s. I usually try to just skim and find what I was looking for if necessary, with the re-read only happening as an absolute last resort.

I’ve read books where I’ve been so sure that outside it must be dark and in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm. Because that’s what was happening in the book. It’s actually shocking when it’s bright and sunny out, and not at all what I was expecting. I’ve yet (I still hold out hope) to read a paper that has me so fascinated that my view of the world around me is so highly influenced by what I’m reading that I feel disconnected when I stop reading.

Now, I will say that I’ve read (well, started) books that also ended up being dull. Or boring. Or even just didn’t flow. But unlike 90% of the academic reading, it was perfectly okay to just stop reading and say “never again.” I really wish I could do so with some of the papers I’ve had to make it through.

I’ve also read really interesting, engrossing, fascinating, flowing books that convey information. Books like How Children Succeed and The Procrastination Equation. Books that prove that it is possible to write academic information in way to engage readers. I’m sure many will argue this type of book often only barely touches the surface of a subject area and rarely gets into the nitty gritty details. I mostly agree. But, they give me hope, that maybe there is an interesting way of writing academic papers. I just hope that someone unlocks the secret and shares it. Because reading papers is enough to make you second guess spending more time in academia


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