When I had been at uni for a semester or two, I was given an assignment to write a Literature Review. This made very little sense to me. I asked my anthropology tutor, “What is a Literature Review and how do you write one?”
“It’s a review of the literature on your essay topic” was the best explanation I was given. I couldn’t believe how little I knew. I have been a reader my whole life and now I discover that I have read all the wrong books. Many years later I had a similar conversation with my PhD Supervisor. “I’ve read so many books” I said, “but hardly any of them are of any use to me here.”
This is about when I worked out that a good simile for the research behind a PhD Thesis is a stack of many fat Yellow Pages directories with a thin Telephone Directory on top. The Yellow Pages support the Telephone Directory. The PhD candidate has to have all the Yellow Pages (research) stacked up before the Telephone Directory (Thesis) can be useful.
To return to my assignment Review of the Literature, I actually wrote one by mistake. Once I knew what I was meant to be doing I found I could do this thing. Writing an Annotated Bibliography was another hurdle for me. I ended up by keeping copious notes of every academic paper, every book and any other learned source that might prove to be useful. All these notes, alphabetically filed, written in pencil, are still here in my study. I need to clear them out.
Teaching tertiary students, which is where my studies eventually took me, made me appreciate the obstacles I had managed to overcome. I think lecturers, teachers, and tutors sometimes forget the ways of learning before actually grasping something. Meeting the student at the bottom of the ladder and not halfway up is probably the most effective way to teach.
Once my Thesis was out of the way, my next task was to learn to read for pleasure again. However, my critical eye will always be open and not a few books have been scrapped because of this. Deep reading is a skill that I had to learn. Sometimes reading like this is a nuisance and I have to suspend my pedantic internal reader.
At the moment there are two books that haunt me. Both are novels, one very well written the other not so brilliant but both have the power to startle me when my mind is at rest. Oyster by Janet Turner Hospital is one and the other is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I was warned that Oyster would cause flashbacks – and so it does. The Lovely Bones, well I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend it. I reviewed it on Goodreads and have just managed to post it to this blog.
I have reviewed Oyster and published it to this blog but will do so again. Ironically, I decided to read Oyster for relief, to break up the intensity of The Neapolitan Novels. Well, I do some silly things sometimes and this was one of those times.