I loved my writing retreat over the last two weeks, but it’s left me feeling a bit unbalanced. No, not like that! Let me explain. All writing and no reading has left me feeling as if I need to follow up my writing retreat with a reading retreat. I love reading as much as I love writing. I’ve been reading intensively about creative research methods for the last couple of years, and now there’s lots of other research-related reading I want to do. But why can it be so hard to find the time?
I think it’s partly because reading isn’t seen as ‘doing something’, particularly by managers. Practitioners who I interviewed for my first research methods book gave varying reports of this. Some said their managers did value reading and would recommend journal articles they thought would be helpful for staff. Others said their managers did not value reading, particularly where staff had a busy caseload. Yet how can practice be evidence-based if staff and managers don’t have time to read the evidence?
Never having been an academic, I naively thought that this would be different in academia: that all academics would understand the importance of reading, and the act of reading would be valued as an essential part of an academic’s work. Sadly, I now know that this is not the case – or, at least, not everywhere.
I had an interesting discussion on Twitter last week with Inger Mewburn (aka @thesiswhisperer) and Annika Coughlin about why reading isn’t regarded as work in the same way as writing. (Inger pointed out there was a blog post in that, so here it is – part one, at least; she has promised to write a follow-up.) Maybe one reason is that reading is something you can do anywhere: on a sun lounger, during your commute, in the bath, on a plane. It’s portable, a time-filler, and that makes it seem like a leisure activity rather than work.
I think perhaps another reason is that reading is hard to quantify. You can say ‘I’ve read this article today’, but have you read every word? Did you understand it all? How much can you remember? I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of reading something and retaining nothing, even straight after we’ve finished. The number of books or articles you’ve read is irrelevant if you didn’t understand or retain much of their contents. On the other hand, writing is very quantifiable, even if none of the 500 words you’ve just written will make it into your final draft.
Like writing, though, reading helps us think, and learn, and understand the world around us. Writing, thinking, and reading are the three pillars of the researcher’s working life – or they should be. As a researcher and a writer myself, I want people to read and use research and articles and books, because otherwise what’s the point of all my hard work? Some organisational cultures are much better at producing research than using it, which seems to me like a crazy waste of resources. We should use research first, and only produce more research when that’s really needed. But to use research, we have to… guess what? Wait for it… yep, we have to read.
We all have to read. Including me. Here’s my current TBR pile – and it’s going to grow bigger, as I’ve just finished an online shopping spree to help me catch up on some topics of interest. I’ve made a commitment to reading at least one chapter a day, six days a week. And I’m not the only person who has been thinking along these lines; yesterday @tseenster of the Research Whisperer posted in a similar vein about her commitment to read at least two journal articles a day.
I’ve been wondering for a while why people are so keen on ‘shut up and write’ sessions, yet nobody runs ‘shut up and read’ sessions. And why do we have an #acwri hashtag on Twitter, but not an #acread hashtag? If we, as researchers and writers, can’t make reading a priority, then we can’t expect other people to read our work either. And that would be a sorry state of affairs. So maybe it’s time for us all to start talking about reading, sharing what we read, and generally telling the world that reading is both important and enjoyable.