I've spent the past few days devouring books. Not in the heedless, headlong way we usually mean that expression (reading through the night until it gets light, book propped between faucet and backsplash while brushing one's teeth), but with focused determination: I'm cramming, basically, trying to get through a stack of recent and/or semi-seminal scholarship before I revise my book's introduction.
It's not un-fun (many of the works are thoughtful and well-written, and I've included several that are more appealing than they are directly relevant), and the drunken, discombobulated, where-am-I? feeling upon shutting the book at the end of the day is the same. But it's definitely work: tape flags out, notebook open, antennae up.
I note this because it's only been in the last two semesters, teaching M.A. students, that I've come to recognize this search-and-destroy method of reading as a skill that takes time to develop. It still astonishes me when smart, perceptive students will entirely miss the main argument of a scholarly essay that I thought a model of clarity--but I know now that it's usually a forest/trees problem: they don't know what to disregard. My students don't yet know the subject area or the critical background, of course, but they also don't totally know how scholarly writing works. (The 50-something psychiatrist in my grad class last spring was by far the best reader of literary scholarship, probably because, as a doctor, she understood the basic moves of academic prose and could immediately recognize which parts were lit review, which parts were argumentative positioning, and when evidence shaded into interpretation.)
I'm not sure whether there's a way to speed this process up for students, other than assigning them a damn lot of scholarly literature. And while I'm grateful that it feels like second nature, now, to me, I wonder whether it's changed my ability to devour books for fun: it's hard to read without a pencil. And when I realize that I've completely forgotten the ending of a novel that I read and loved six months ago, I'm irritated at myself for not paying more attention or reading better.