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06/15/2021

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ethan

A few brief thoughts:

1. If you find a book/paper interesting or are enjoying it, just read it. Don't worry about whether it is worth it. This advice might change later in your career. In your fifth year, reading things that are interesting but that are irrelevant to your dissertation might not be a good use of your time. But assuming you are in a US program with 2-3 years of coursework before dissertating, you should find what topics you are interested in and learn about them.

2. Sometimes you do need to read things that you may not be that interested in. If there's an article that you hear people talk about a lot, it might be worth reading. This is so especially if it is in an area you are interested in, even if the paper itself does not seem that interesting to you.

3. Don't necessarily try to emulate Marvin's third comment about reading things "very quickly". For one thing, different people read at different paces. Personally, if I tried to read an average journal article in 30 minutes or a book in several hours my comprehension would be *horrible*. Now, I do agree that there is value in the strategy of trying to read things just for main ideas to see if they are relevant to whatever you're thinking about. But I have two points: first, you should figure out for yourself the right way to do this. It took me a number of years to figure out both when and how I should skim a paper for main ideas versus read it carefully. Second, the strategy of skimming for relevance makes sense when you have a particular question or research project that a paper can be relevant to or irrelevant to. But if you're just trying to learn about different fields, exploring ideas, or trying to get a feel for some area of literature, this strategy may not be applicable.

Review

If there’s a review of a book read it first to get an idea of what it’s about.

Daniel Weltman

To reiterate and expand on the general tenor of ethan's advice: in the second year of grad school, unless you are absolutely dead sure of your area of interest beyond any shadow of a doubt, I wouldn't really worry about optimizing your reading or anything. Just read stuff that seems interesting, stuff that is assigned in your classes, stuff that the reading groups are reading, etc. (If there are no reading groups, organize some reading groups. I got more out of reading groups in grad school than I did out of most classes, and that's not to disparage the classes, which I greatly enjoyed!)

Later, you'll want to work out reading strategies that are adapted to writing (or, even more mercenarily, that are adapted to publishing). But second year of grad school is too early for that! Give yourself time to read a lot and write very little so that you have a wide base of knowledge to choose for when picking a topic, teaching courses in the future, etc.

As for the fear of missing out on the most important readings: there's no such thing as the most important readings in an unqualified sense. We can rank readings by importance only given some goal or another. Eventually your goal will be to write and publish, at which point you can figure out reading strategies that work for that. But right now your goal is just to basically read lots of philosophy, and from that point of view everything is equally important! Or, if something is more interesting to you than something else, the former is more important than the latter.

Michel

My PhilPapers feed delivers interesting new papers to me on a regular basis. When I see a paper that interests me, I download it, stash it in a 'to read' folder, and... well, I get to many of them eventually, but I don't do so in any systematic fashion. When I don't have something more pressing to do, I'll open the folder and read something in it. There will always be more things to read than I have the time or energy to read.

Otherwise, I mostly let my writing determine what I read. That is to say, working on some project tends to make it clear that I need to read some particular chunk of material (as well as which particular kinds of materials I should be seeking out!), so I go out, find it, and read it. Sometimes it's just a skim to see where I need to start paying more attention, and sometimes (especially at the beginning of a project or if it's an overview article) then it's more thorough reading.

If it's a book, then it depends on my goals. Sometimes I read them piecemeal over a month (e.g. 10 pages or so a day), and sometimes I just read relevant sections and skim other chunks and follow up with some book reviews to get a good sense of what else is in there.

It takes me about an hour or so to get through a normal-length philosophy paper or chapter while paying a decent amount of attention. I will read about a paper a day and no more, because I find it exhausting to do too much more. (When I'm working with particular materials, I of course go back over them more carefully.) And as I said before, my strategy for books is just to do a manageable chunk each day--just ten pages or so. It doesn't sound like much, but it adds up over time and leaves me all fresh-faced for other stuff (including writing).

Tim

I recommend, to my students, that they think of their reading as goal directed. What to read, how intensely you read, and when you stop are determined by the goal.

For instance, one goal in reading is just finding material that interests you and learning new material. For that type of reading, I don't think you need to read very intensely, taking notes on each page. And if you start a book that seems interesting, but it turns out it isn't, just stop!

Another goal is writing a paper. For this reading, you might have read material you don't like (because its widely cited) or read it very closely (because its very dense).

Seeing your reading as goal directed has helped me (and I thinks some of my students) as navigating these problems.

B

When I was in graduate school, we had a set of four 4 hour exams we had to write. One usually wrote them at the end of the summer, before the new semester. There were reading lists prepared for each exam. They were a little longer you one could reasonably read, but they gave you a good sense of what you should read to be familiar with the current debates in the area. Get your hand on such lists early, if your programme has such exams. They were excellent. I got a very firm basis in the four areas.

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