I’m someone who reads constantly – both for research and for fun. During my master’s, I was notorious for reading a LOT of academic literature both because I wanted to learn as much as possible but also because I felt a sense of ignorance and inferiority coming from an academic background in India which didn’t require as much and as wide a range of reading as the British university system does. But even otherwise, I’m forever reading both books and articles online.
Roughly since the time I launched the podcast in January this year, I’ve been saving a lot of articles I find online on a range of media sources – some academic, most not – on Pocket. These articles explore the intersectional themes I’m exploring in my research in many different ways. I’ve also been borrowing and buying books which delve into the same themes. I make time to read these books and articles with breakfast every morning since much of my actual work day is spent in podcast pre- and post-production work as well as recording podcasts. I’ve ended up using some of the saved articles as podcast resource texts which I share with my co-participants wherever relevant. But largely, I read these articles and books to either inform a future episode’s themes or to contextualise and expand my understanding of a past episode’s discussion points.
Today, I was thinking of my upcoming annual progress review and specifically of what I wish I had time for that my burnouts born of a combination of depression and overwork didn’t leave room for. I only have another month left for the podcast/data generation and I really wish I had been able to read more academic literature over the last nine months. It’s something I hoped to do before I started the podcast – set aside some regular time to keep myself updated with the literature which I can then add to my thesis. I did read a little bit of academic literature early this year when I’d just launched my podcast but soon was buried too deep with other work to have much time and brainspace left over for the kind of active reading that academic literature requires. Which means that I haven’t kept myself acquainted with academic literature since my transfer process last year i.e. October 2019.
Another thing I was doing today was my usual breakfast reading; currently, I’m reading Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows. So far, it’s been an excellent anthology charting the history of representation and activism by and related to trans people in the UK; a history I was especially interested in learning about since I live in the UK but also in light of J. K. Rowling’s mounting transphobia which by all accounts stems from a specific brand of British trans-exclusionary radical feminism. The book collects extremely accessible essays from a wide range of people – both trans and cis – including journalists, artists, members of Parliament, activists among others, who have been involved in some way in promoting equality and respect for trans experiences. I was marveling at how much a single essay – a first-person account of someone who had taken his case to the European Court – taught me when I began questioning my lament that I hadn’t had time to read much academic literature this year.
This list features the kind of books I’ve been reading with breakfast (and otherwise) to expand my knowledge about issues and experiences – especially in instances where I’m a part of the dominant culture and subsequently quite ignorant. Reading these books and articles didn’t begin as a deliberate choice but I enjoyed it so much that I began doing it purposely, carving out time to read them. For most things, I’ll just read to fill in the gaps of my knowledge. With a few, I write down particular quotes to revisit when I’m in the process of analyising my data/writing my thesis. I even have a tag on Pocket which instructs my future self to add the tagged articles to my PhD literature. I made the book list as a part of my References section to make it an easily accessible resource for anybody who was interested in exploring the books and themes themselves. (One day, maybe I’ll go through my Pocket archive to create a similar list of articles I’ve read).
I’m really happy that I chose to bury myself in this literature throughout the podcast-making process. Even though it’s not as active as reading academic literature (my brain treats both those tasks separately), it’s been extremely valuable. More importantly, I realised that while I had designed the project in such a way that I wanted to give equal respect to both academic and non-academic fannish voices, I didn’t seem to have considered it in terms of the kind of literature I consider important. I’m definitely going to cite fan texts alongside academic literature in my final thesis. But I hadn’t considered citing this broad range of literature – which includes memoirs, biographies, themed anthologies, essays, and even some fiction – in my thesis. I thought I had kept my mind as open as possible while thinking of what counts as literature in a research project (citing Tumblr user names fills me with utter delight). But I hadn’t even thought about citing something as basic as the things I’ve been reading. I suppose one of the issues is that a lot of my work bleeds into my personal life – what I’m reading/watching/listening to for fun is often something I will also use for my research. And while personal stories are anecdotal – that’s exactly the point of my project! Co-creating knowledge through conversations which include multiple interpretations and diverse opinions. Reading the non-academic literature is merely an iteration of this – a one-way conversation which nonetheless is shaping how I see and understand the world and its people. Literature in academic projects doesn’t just need to be peer-reviewed studies –
at least especially the kind of research and argument I’m exploring. I love that this project is constantly causing me to identify and challenge my own preconceived notions and biases. Hopefully, this process of questioning and unlearning will be a lifelong process. For now, I’m going to disrupt my ideas of what counts as proper literature and whose voice matters. (Spoilers: everything and everybody!)