My friend Louisa Edwards wrote an interesting guest post about researching as a novelist. Her post reminded me of my own, slowly-growing conviction that if you’re not interested in the book you are researching, it’s probably not relevant to your project.
Sometimes people get into a trap of trying to read everything important to their field. I have noticed, however, that no matter how important something is supposed to be, if it’s boring me while I’m trying to read it, I’m probably not going to end up using it for my project. I don’t mean boring because it’s badly written, I mean boring because the information is boring (to me).
For example, my committee strongly recommended that I read Aristotle’s Poetics, a reasonable suggestion since it is the most cited piece of poetry criticism of all time. It bored me (nearly) to tears, but I kept slogging through it because I was convinced the committee saw some amazing connection between Aristotle and my own work that I was missing. This happened in June. Then last week, I went to a poetry discussion group about Poetics. We had an interesting conversation, but nothing anyone said made me believe that Aristotle was going to be important to my project or theirs. And, my chair was there–and when I mentioned the committee’s recommendation that I read Aristotle, he could not remember anyone telling me that, and he seemed surprised that anyone would give me that suggestion!
So I guess my second piece of advice today is not to take too much to heart any reading advice by faculty or colleagues. Chances are, they are just throwing an idea out there without having really thought through its relevance to your project. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try their suggestions–you should. But if you’re bored, realize that you are bored for good reason and move on to something else.