It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for the next installment in The Reading Series. This is when I write to think more deeply about books, why we read, and why literature is so important in our lives. This collection of discussion posts aims to explore different ways we read, what effect they have on us, and why. Today’s topic is…
Being a university student, I am tasked with writing an essay twice a year. I am lucky that the majority of my course is practical based work, but learning the theory behind what I do is imperative to my practice. The first step to starting an essay, after attending lectures and choosing a topic, is the research. There tends to be a reading list that can help me on my way, but I have tp guide myself through my research, and let the research guide me sometimes, to find an appropriate direction to take my writing. Reading is sometimes the biggest part of the essay writing process, bigger even than the writing itself. Well-crafted essays require a lot of background knowledge, which can only be aquired in a few ways. Reading is one of them.
I am very lucky at my university to have a well stocked library for everything I need to know, but actually knowing what book I need in the first place is a big task sometimes. I usually know what I want to start my research with, but finding the right book with the correct information can be tricky! When I find a good fiction book, it becomes like a comfort blanket to me, and this doesn’t change when I find a good textbook. I hang on to that textbook as long as possible throughout my writing process to refer back to, and use as a reference guide to other books to gain further insight into my topic.
In the past I’ve discussed reading fiction books for various reasons, but how does reading fiction differ from reading textbooks, beyond the obvious? Despite feeling like a well educated and well read person, I can sometimes find textbooks to be quite complex in their sentence structure, technical wording, and general theories stated, that might not make a lot of sense to me. Compared to a fiction book, where I am able to understand most of what’s going on, textbooks can be a massive drag to read, especially when I can’t get my head around what’s happening! Textbooks also leave a lot less up to the imagination, if anything at all! Fiction books allow us to enter these amazing worlds created by the authors and help us as readers exercise our thought processes through the practice of bringing the written world to life in our heads. Textbook authors are writing through the lens of theory and fact, with the occasional opinion, leaving us less to imagine, because, to put it simply, it already exists. There is no fantastical plot, or amazing characters to configure in our heads. This could be why a lot of people who may really enjoy reading still find textbooks incredbly dry.
On the topic of fact, what is exciting about textbooks (there, I said it, textbooks can be exciting at times!) is that, whenever we read them, we obtain new knowledge. As much as they can be laborious to read, they can give fantastic insights into the real world that is turning around us. Yes, it may be nice to escape reality through the form of fiction, but learning about the world we live in can be so insightful. This is even more true when we consider the fact that, by the time you get to university education, you are more than likely studying a subject you are interested in anyway. Being able to choose a topic within your chosen study gives you so much freedom to research whatever you like (within reason), which means you are more likely to come across textbooks that seem more interesting. I’m not saying you won’t find the odd one or two that will bore you out of your mind, but even they might hold a nugget of information that you find exciting, or puts you on a pathway to find out even more about your chosen topic. By being in control of your what you research, you can control what you read, and you can make it exciting. I do understand how difficult it can be to read textbooks, especially those massive, daunting ones that look like they have been collecting dust on the library shelf for 100 years or so, but it is such an amazing feeling to find that comfort textbook that guides your research, or that tiny bit of information that takes you on a journey of discovery.
As dull and complex textbooks can be, there is also a subtle beauty to the knowledge they give us (even when shown through a scruffy page of notes)!
What do you think? Do you read a lot of textbooks, and if so, how do you find the experience? Let me know your opinions on this post in the comments!
Until next time…