With a couple of weeks of breathing room between deadlines, I've decided to turn my energies to the stack of academic books I purchased at conferences over the past year. They're all in my subfield, but none is urgently related to anything I'm working on, so this has the benefit of feeling both virtuous (hey, I'm working! This is totally work!) and a bit decadent (I'm reading for fun! I don't have to read any of this!). So far I've finished two of your basic 200-page monographs and started a third, and I'm partway through a 600-page brick of a book, which I decided to tackle a chapter a day. It's been lovely. Even more lovely is that many of these books are by friends or friendly acquaintances.
But the fact that I know some of these authors and that I just published my own book has made me reflect uncomfortably on how I read. As I've mentioned before, a lot of my scholarly reading these days gets done in a search-and-destroy, slash-and-burn kind of way: I power through a book in a day or two, extracting the gist and the ideas most useful for my own work, skimming the chapters on less-relevant topics, and then moving on to the next one. It's like bolting a meal rather than savoring it: it gets the job done, energy- and nutrition-wise, but it doesn't do the food or the cook justice.
That's not quite how I'm reading these books--there's no point in rushing through books I don't urgently need to read in the first place--but it would be incorrect to say that I'm reading them as slowly or as carefully as they deserve. I'm reading them moderately briskly, with time to linger over cool things here and there, but with the expectation that I'll be coming back to the best ones in the future and don't need to digest everything now.
That's true enough; a good book is a long-term resource, which is why I buy so many. But the fact that I spent ten years writing my own 200-page monograph nags at me when I buzz through someone else's over just a day or two. If if I needed anything to make me feel even more keenly the triviality, the disposabilty of my own work, it's how speedily I read someone else's.
* I know! The bad Latin, it burns.