Mission Accomplished (or: how to read 184 books in 5 months)

These are the ridiculously detailed reading calendars I used to get through my PhD exam reading.

Two things I’ve loved about this spring: seeing What Can’t Wait on a real shelf in a real bookstore and seeing our little boy Liam crawl, walk, giggle, eat, and be.

One thing I didn’t always enjoy but love being able to write about now: reading 184 books in five months.

Me, a masochist? No, just your typical comparative literature graduate student trying to get to her dissertation. Yes, we really do read that much. From Walter Scott’s Rob Roy to Georges Perec’s La Vie mode d’emploi and Ricardo Piglia’s Respiración artificial, I’ve been reading across three continents and four languages to get ready for my PhD qualifying exams.

I can talk about it now without hyperventilating because today is the one-week anniversary of passing them! I also now feel free to tell you how I managed to read all these books while also teaching, promoting my new book, writing (at least a little), and squeezing in QT with my boys.

I have three not-very-secret “secrets” to offer you if you are going to be tackling an overwhelming task (reading or otherwise).

Make a schedule. You can see my reading calendars for the past five months in the picture above. I scheduled my texts with sticky notes so that I could move books around easily without accidentally “losing” anything.

Putting every single book I needed to read on a calendar in advance helped me stay calm because it showed me that–even if challenging–reading these books in the allotted time actually was possible. This was integral to finishing my elephant off one bite at a time (to find out what the heck I’m talking about, read this post.)

Be strategic. My biggest sneaky strategic move was to look for as many of the books as possible on audio. This allowed me to read over 30 books while I took care of my son, exercised, drove, and so on. That saved me a whole month of reading time. And while listening is not the same as reading, it’s sometimes better: the unabridged recording of Ulysses made the classic infinitely more accessible and enjoyable. I was also able to find quite a bit of literary criticism in audio form, which helped me to consolidate what I was reading.

Remember that your life is now. In times of stress, it is so tempting to try to just “get through it,” but I don’t like to think of myself as putting off my “real” life. Even when I was tired, I reminded myself that this–today, now–was my life and it was my job to make it productive and positive. I was getting to do something that I love, that no one was oppressing me, that I was reading books I wanted to read. I also resolved not to feel guilty about having fun with my son. No matter what.

That’s the dose of nerdy productivity advice for the day. Happy elephant-eating!


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