Literature review - nothing strikes terror into a graduate student’s heart more than these two words! You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. Considered an essential part of research, you print hundreds of papers till the printer’s ink and/or paper runs out, read tens of papers with multiple naps in between, and understand five (maybe fewer?). It is a laborious and time-consuming task, but you need to do it anyway.
If you spend most of your time reading papers, why in the world would you want to spend more time reading, right? You’d call me crazy if I even suggested the thought of doing a literature review for pleasure. Hold on, this is a different kind of reading: reviewing literature, not literature review. I’m talking about reading novels. Now that’s literature, as the purists would say.
A bookish child
From the time I was a child, I have been an avid reader thanks to my father’s staunch belief that a book is a far more effective tool to keep kids occupied than any other medium. While he was right back then, I feel that times have changed when I see kids playing on iPads and cellphones. It was quite different back then. My friends and I read for fun, and then, like foolhardy believers, we tried to emulate the Famous Five or the Secret Seven. We even had passwords for entering a certain secret cave which, in hindsight, was neither secret nor a cave.
Every time my father went on a trip, he would bring back a new paperback for me to devour. By the time I reached high school, my library had grown quite large indeed and occupied half of my room. An attempt at organizing the books in lexicographic order ended in failure due to the sheer volume (see what I did there?) of books in my possession. I also remember “borrowing” books from his library that I wasn’t permitted to read at that age. I was moved to tears after reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and that was how he found out. Surprisingly, he did not get angry and explained why certain books were meant for a certain age to fully appreciate the content. I always asked for permission after that... no, I continued borrowing, but I took into account my father’s words when the content was a bit beyond my experience.
A Kindle-ish college student
I had to leave almost all of my books behind when I moved to college. That was when I decided to make a tradeoff and moved to the digital medium. Trust me, even today, there is nothing more pleasing than holding a new paperback in my hands with the smell of fresh paper and the excitement of a new story waiting to be discovered. But the convenience of being able to read all of my favorite books at a moment’s notice has made the Amazon Kindle my go-to device. However, college left me with little time to read and my Kindle was abandoned (but not forgotten). Moving back home with all my paperbacks proved to be quite an experience. I never realized that I had accumulated over 30 pounds of books and transporting them cost an arm and a leg. I decided to stick to the Kindle when I moved to MIT. Adjusting to the demanding new schedule took a while but I am back on track and consciously try to read for a few hours on weekends.
Always a reader
I am currently in a Stephen King phase after having been on a Jhumpa Lahiri reading spree last year. Several of King’s works have been translated into movies, so it would be interesting to watch them and ponder on the age-old question: “Is the book better than the movie?” Honestly, I have almost always found the book to be better. Perhaps because a director’s vision and visual effects are no match for the vast expansive world(s) created by our own imagination.
We are all swamped with life’s demands and responsibilities but it is important to take time out for yourself. One of the most relaxing activities you can engage in is reading. Read because you can explore new worlds, read because you can live other lives, read because you can empathize, read because you can experience new ideas, read because you can. So, my fellow academics, do your literature review along with reviewing literature, and you can thank me when we meet. Till then, happy reading trails!
Tech tips for Kindle owners
Send an email to your Kindle account email (firstname.lastname@example.org) using “Convert” as the subject with PDF or EPUB files attached and the files will get synced to your Kindle the next time you connect to the internet from the device.
Use the free software Calibre to change file formats. The most commonly used operation is MOBI to EPUB since Kindle is not able to read MOBI files.