Thursday, 6 June 2013

I am not addicted to books

A friend posted this on Facebook. I understand it is supposed to be ironic, but I cannot help wondering whether people indeed have such relationships with books. So let me respond.

1. When you were little, books were your best friends in the world.

I am not sure what it means. I learned to read when I was four and I was always reading, but I would never call books friends. I didn't have lots of real friends, and I had some imaginary friends, but books were books. 

2. When you’re reading a good book, you forget to eat or sleep.

Why? I wasn't allowed to read during meals, so I have never developed this habit. I like munching on something nice when I am reading. But I would not forget to eat because I would get hungry sooner or later. I may read late, later than reasonable, but forget to sleep? No. 

3. Your ups and downs are completely dictated by the book you’re reading.

This sounds a bit pathological to me. A book may indeed affect my life, as many books have, but on a more profound level. Not my everyday life. 

4. You’ve been traumatized by things that “only” happened in books you read.

Frankly, I have no idea what it means. I must be completely insensitive.

5. The picture window in your wallet displays your library card instead of your driver’s license.

 Could be. Could also be my bank card or my Tesco rewards card. Actually, I don't have a library card because all my library privileges are on my university ID card.

6. You think of colors in terms of Penguin classics.

I must be colour-blind.

7. Rainy days > sunny days.

Maybe. And yes, I used to read a lot outdoors. These days, I do my gardening outdoors, and I do my readign indoors.

8. This is all you think about when you picture your “dream home.” 

No, this is a nightmare that I have been escaping from all life. Moving countries is an efficient way of getting rid of books. And I never re-arrange my bookshelves because then I wouldn't be able to find anything.

9. Walking by a closed bookstore is torture

No. It can be a nuisance if you have come all the way from Stockholm to San Diego to find your favourite bookstore closed, but otherwise it will be open the next day. And my argument is: Do you really need a new book? Yes? No, you must be mistaken. You have a whole shelf of unread books (given to you by publishers for free). Crush on a bookstore employee sounds interesting, but I have not been blessed with such an experience.

10. Anytime you undertake any idea or project, the first step is to read a lot of books about it.

 Yes, but I cannot see this as a sign of addiction, but a normal scholarly approach. Books can teach you almost anything, including how to make friends. 

11. You would never shame someone for reading.

Of course not. I don't understand the point. I must be living in a different world. Does anyone shame anyone else for reading? Well, they do in 19th-century novels and bad contemporary young adult fiction. I feel sorry for people who don't read because their life is poorer than mine, but shame?

12. When others come to you for advice, you just give them books to read.

No. That's what bad educators do. "Read this book about grief, and you'll forget that your best friend has died. Read Anna Karenina, and you will feel better about your adultery".

13. When you go on vacation, your suitcase looks like this.

Depends on the length and nature of vacation, as well as the destination. If you are going to a country where you cannot get hold of books then of course you will bring more. But these days I just bring my reading device. When I used to do to beaches I always brought a book. But other people play cards. Or swim. Or play beachball.

14. TV is OK…sometimes.

I don't watch TV. 

15. The stack of books by your bed resembles the beginning of a Jenga game.

It used to. Then my daughter told me it was bad feng shui, and she was right. Now I just have the book I am reading. 

16. The sexiest someone can look is when they’re holding a good book.

 This must be some weird internal joke. 

17. You make decisions about people based on the number of books they have.

Yes. And the kinds of books they have. And no, books are not better than people. No more than bicycles  are better than ice cream.

18. But when someone reads a book you recommend to them, your faith in humanity is completely restored.

My job is to recommend people to read books so there is nothing particularly remarkable about it.

19. The book is always, always, always better.

No. There are lots of great movies based on books nobody has heard of. And there are lots of great movies based on great books. And bad movies based on bad books.

20. One of your life’s greatest pleasures is the smell of old books.

No. If anything, I like the smell of new books.

21. Book violence concerns you greatly.

I have no idea what it is about. 

22. Sure, you work out!

OK, this was funny.  And yes, I do get pain if I sit uncomfortably when I read, so I don't. 

23. You often have spats of, uh, “insomnia.”

No. I am hopelessly self-disciplined. And I have never experienced the pleasure, described in books, of falling asleep with a book in your hands.

24. Finishing a book you loved is like losing a best friend.

No! It's like gaining a good friend. You can read it again and again. However, I said earlier that books are not friends. 

25. When you’re between books, you feel lost.

No. I always have at least fifty books on my reading list, so when I finish a book I just start a new one. 

Summing up: I read on the average a hundred books every year, for work and for pleasure. I re-read some books regularly for pleasure, and I re-read lots of books for work. I normally read at least something every day. Most days, I read at least an hour in bed. I have books at work and at home. Books are my work and my leisure. But addicted? The typical definition of addicted is that you cannot stop and get sick if you stop. I would be vary unhappy if I were deprived of reading, but none of the symptoms described above make much sense. 

Oh well, I know it is supposed to be ironic. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

You are now number three in line...

My students must think I am crazy when I tell them that I read their drafts on first-come-first-served basis. For each of them, their draft is the highest priority. But I cannot see any other way of dealing with it. I cannot take on the responsibility of deciding that any particular student's work is more urgent than any other. I cannot even say that masters' drafts are more important than PhDs or the other way round. So I just say, first-come-first-served, and I don't read drafts during the weekends (unless specifically agreed with the student).

Now, a draft is a relative concept. Some drafts are five pages, some are forty. Some offer a coherent argument, some are notes and quotes. The latter are the hardest to assess. What can I say beyond: “Carry on”? A full masters thesis draft – 20,000 words – takes anything between three and twenty hours to read and comment on. This year, I have six masters students, and if I read two drafts of each – well, some simple calculation. Further, I have PhD students who insist on producing their chapters drafts in sync with the masters, before the end of term. A chapter is also usually about 20,000 words, and it can also take any number of hours to read. Some students have complained that I don't give them enough feedback. When a chapter is really good, I typically say so, possibly offering some minor comments on structure or suggesting an additional source. But I can imagine that a student who has spent weeks upon weeks on a chapter is disappointed to merely hear: “Excellent – now go and write the next chapter”. Fine, I will give more feedback (there is always something you can say even about the most brilliant chapter), but it takes more time. Hmm... that's what I am paid for.

Of course I cannot read drafts ten hours non-stop. It would be unfair toward the student whose draft I read last on the day. I'd either be too grumpy and find faults or too tired to make sensible comments. Which means that I need breaks every now and then, and occasionally I need to eat. For breaks, I go out and do some gardening. It's tempting to stay in the garden and never return to those lovely drafts, but I have fantastic self-discipline. Yet finally I reach a stage when I don't understand what I am reading anymore, and then I need to stop and re-read the draft the next day to make sure I haven't missed anything. And correct the typos in my comments.

By the time I have read all lined-up drafts there will be more coming. And I write back to the student to acknowledge that the draft has arrived, saying: “You are now number three in line. I will deal with your draft as soon as I can”.

Mind, I love my job!