Not All Books Are Created Equal

Preston Hill
Thursday 20 September 2018

Books. You cannot write a PhD dissertation without them. In many ways, writing a PhD dissertation is you writing your own book! But before you can write, you have to read. And boy is there alot to read for a PhD.

But fear not! This book reading is fun! One usually embarks upon a PhD because they love what they are studying…enough to commit years of research to the topic! If anything, a PhD student has the problem of too much reading! There are a vast number of complex primary sources, and a seemingly endless scope of secondary sources on your chosen research topic. Your PhD is you demonstrating a deep understanding of the first and a masterful awareness of the second.

One thing I have learned in my PhD so far is this: Not all books are created equal.

Some books I need to sit in. I need to not rush through them. I need to soak in them, read every word, know every footnote, and be formed by the work as a whole. These are the books worth every precious minute you give to them.

But if I treat every book like this, I will literally end up never finishing my PhD! It would be nice but there is simply not enough time.

The reality is there are many books I will only “speed read.” One professor described this to me as “Emergency Room Reading.” This is where you look at the Table of Contents, find the Chapter relevant to your thesis, and skim through it to find that one quote you can use in your research writing.

I am realizing to finish a PhD well, I have to intentionally separate these two kinds of reading. If I don’t, I will either always be reading and never finish writing, or I will never be formed by any good books! Both are important, both are necessary.

Not all books are created equal. Choose wisely, researcher!

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