Beginning a PhD can be a little overwhelming in terms of how much reading you’re expected to do. Estimates point toward the goal of three hundred books as a general figure for a literature PhD – perfectly doable over a three-year period (or six-year, if you’re studying part-time). I read an awful lot anyway, both for the purpose of my studies and in my free time, and have just hit my Goodreads yearly goal of 350 books. Reading this quantity of books should not, therefore, seem daunting. Right? Wrong, in part.
I have two supervisors, as I’m pretty sure is the norm for PhD researchers. I have now had two meetings with both, and am awaiting a tutorial with both in early December. As, again, I’m pretty sure will probably be the norm, both have sent me in different directions with my project. One has suggested that I read the entire back catalogue of May Sinclair, one of my primary authors, and that I reread Woolf and Mansfield. Fine. I can do that.
The other has suggested that it would be a great idea to include some contemporary authors too. A couple of them I’ve read almost in full; one I’ve picked up a couple of tomes by; the other I must admit I only heard of in the last couple of months. We’ve yet to decide on the fourth and final author, but I have a few ideas. I feel I will only be able to select the most fitting once I’ve read entire oeuvres once more, and have decided which best suits my project and chosen angle of study.
Then there’s the theory, the philosophy, the many waves of feminism, the psychological aspect of my project… and all of the reading seems to have to be done now. I can pace myself with books and set out a schedule of what to read when, and then to meet those goals; I’m sure many students are the same. But when it comes to prioritising so many books, where does one begin? I’m almost finished with the reading of May Sinclair’s oeuvre, and I’ve read Mansfield and Woolf so often over the last decade or so that I don’t feel a real need to re-read their work until I’ve pinned down which of their books (or collections, in Mansfield’s case) I’m planning to focus upon. I’ve ordered several volumes of the more contemporary authors to factor into my reading over Christmas.
I have taken to focusing only upon the chapters of use to me in academic and other secondary books, copying up only the quotes which I feel will be of the most use. With my primary authors, evidently I’m having to read their books in full, but this is more enjoyable than taxing. I could just do with ten more hours in the day!
How do you prioritise your reading? Do you have a full bibliography of books you need to get to, or do you have several different documents or notebooks in different places, as I must admit that I do)?
… It won’t surprise you, but I’m off to read.