Thursday, October 3, 2013

How to Read A Lot

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of a stack of books on Facebook that I had on my list of books I need to read. I know many other scholars also have similar stacks of books and articles they plan to read because I have seen such stacks. After posting that picture, a few people wrote to me to ask how I am able to keep up on reading.

I posted that picture nearly three weeks ago, and have gotten through five of those books. This post will explain how I keep up with my reading, amidst my other responsibilites.

As I reflected on my reading process as well as this thoughtful post on reading by David Leonard, I realized that my reading habits have changed over time.

Reading like a single, childless graduate student

My first year of graduate school, it seems all I did was read. My first semester, I read a big book for theory and another book for my race seminar each week. In addition, I did background reading for my first seminar paper. I’d come home from the library with stacks of books and would read them voraciously. With few commitments in my life other than graduate school, I just read all the time.

Fortunately, in my first semester of graduate school, my theory professor Charles Kurzman suggested to all of us that we take notes on every single thing we read and that we label the computer files with a .nts extension. I still have those notes from that semester and the semesters since.

When you have few externally imposed limits on your time, to read a lot, all you need is passion and perseverance.

Reading like a graduate student with small children

My twin daughters were born in my fourth semester of graduate school. If I read anything that semester, it was on how to survive being a mother of twin infants. However, when my twins were five months old, I went back to graduate school and had to figure things out again.

My third year of graduate school was the year I took my comprehensive exams – which meant I had to get through two lists of 100 readings each. To do this, I worked with a group of two other students also studying for these exams, and we made goals for ourselves of the readings we planned to get through and met weekly to talk about those readings. To get through the readings, I left my twins at home with my husband from 9am to around 3pm each day and went to the university to read and take notes. I also would read if and when the twins took naps in the afternoon and evening.

Reading like a new faculty member with small children

When I got my first job, my twins were four years old and my youngest daughter was one year old. We did different things with childcare over the first few years of my job. However, one thing remained constant, and that was that I did not have responsibility over the children between 9am and 5pm.

With small children, it was important for me to be home with them after 5pm. It was also important for me to focus on my work for eight hours each day. Thus, I carved out time during the day to read. I would try and spend at least an hour a day reading.

One other thing I did during this time to keep up with my reading is that, two or three days a week, I would take the kids with me to the gym so that my husband could prepare dinner in peace. The kids would go to the daycare of the gym and I would read for class the following day while on the treadmill or the elliptical.

Reading like a tenured faculty member with children in middle school

When I took my new position at UC Merced, my twins were in their first year of middle school. Middle school has meant that my children are no longer in afterschool programs, and thus get home between 3pm and 4pm. For me, this has meant that I often also need to be home around this time to help my children with their homework and to keep them on track. I have found that I am no longer able to keep a 9 to 5 schedule.

However, another thing has changed, which is that, once my kids are done with their homework, they no longer require my immediate attention. In addition, we have instituted a “no electronics after 8pm” rule in my house. This means that, at 8pm, everyone has to turn off their devices and go into their rooms and read.

I also take this time to read. I find that I generally have enough energy to get in one to two hours of reading after 8pm. I use this time to read for my graduate seminar and to get through my stack of books.

My reading habits have changed over time, but what has remained constant is that reading gets done if and only if I carve out the time for it.

I should also say, in closing, that I also make time to read fiction – either in the evenings, on weekends, or when I travel. This year, I have read every single work by Octavia Butler, inspired by my colleague Erica Williams, who did the same. I also read books by Tayari Jones, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Tannarive Due.

What about you? What are your reading habits? Do you make time for fiction? Do you read mostly books or articles? Do you use a Kindle or do you prefer paper?


  1. Your post is really inspiring... Thank you

  2. Inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for this inspiring article. I recently realized that I am not reading as much as I am supposed to. I am a Master's student in a Japanese university. During the first year of my master's i realized that I was doing lots of experiments with even having enough time to read literature ( deeply , comprehensively). I decided to stop doing experiments this semester and read more 9 not only about my science) but also to hone my critical thinking skills. my current list of books include the following:
    1-Critical thinking by richard Paul.
    2-Thinknig, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
    3-Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
    by Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg.
    I hope that I will be able to finish them by June, this year

    1. Fantastic! I just finished my last novel of winter break. (I think I read four.) Now, to turn to the more serious stuff.