Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday - When Pleasure Becomes Work

Ok, so when I invented this thing - Reading for Pleasure Wednesday - one of the stipulations was that we couldn't write about things that were work-related. This was a very nice summertime idea, but today I've been thinking a bit about how things that I think are pleasure-reading at the time have a way of seeping into my work (unless of course they are total crap). This is one of the potential pitfalls of specializing in English Literature as an academic: one decides to read something - at an airport bookstore, even - and the next thing one knows, one realizes that it would be the perfect thing to teach. Or one reads something - on the recommendation of a professor when one is an undergraduate, not for a class but just "for fun" - and then the next thing one knows that thing one read for pleasure 13 years ago is now a central focus of her research.

In some ways, I suppose this is a good thing. It means I'm working on stuff that I enjoy - truly enjoy. It starts off as pleasure and then I turn it into work because it seems fun to work on. But at the same time, this makes it difficult to distinguish what "counts" as pleasure-reading. Part of the difficulty is that my field encompasses literature that one might reasonably expect to read for "fun." (That said, I also work on things that are decidedly "work" and not fun and that I'd never have considered fun, as I'm a frivolous person.) But it's weird, especially when I talk to people outside of my discipline because it's not unusual for them to mention things that I have transformed into "work" as pleasure-reading, and I don't quite know what to do with that. Have I made these things un-fun by teaching them or by writing about them? Or are they still fun, only work, too? I don't think I'd have this problem if I worked on, say, George Herbert. He's just not a "popular" writer. But the writers whom I tend to teach and whom I tend to do scholarly work on? Well, lots of people choose to read them, for pleasure. Except it seems that I choose not to read these things for pleasure - as soon as I start feeling pleasure in them I transform them into something I have to figure out. Perhaps this is a bad quality in me.

But so I'm going to try really hard to read something that is definitively pleasure-reading in the coming week or two. Even though I'm trying to get the book manuscript together, and even though I've got a bit of non-pleasure reading that I've got to accomplish in that time as well. I'm sorry for falling down on the job here (look - I've even made talking about books that I read for pleasure a job), but it's really hard to figure out what "counts" as pleasure when, really, my entire job is based on reading books I like.


MommyProf said...

Maybe your standards are too high. Personally, I might count a favorite catalog or Time Magazine...

Hilaire said...

Good Doctor, I think pleasure and *thinking*/working can be linked. In my mind, there's no need to question yourself for the way you want to work on things that give you some's the way your mind works. I think there's a very close relationship between pleasure and fine, strong thinking.

The topic of my my research is bound up with pleasure - for me, for lots of people. This gives me the impetus to keep working...I can't separate pleasure from my critical analysis...nor would I want to...In fact, I think that ambiguity gives the whole thing some nuance (and I just submitted a conference abstract that argues that very thing...since I teach my topic in a class and need to help students straddle pleasure/critique all the time...)

Just my two cents! This is an interesting post.

Ancarett said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly -- I often get a new book for my research and dive into it as a diversion from marking, preps or whatever. And then it occurs to me, only much later, that such a book probably doesn't count as pleasure reading.