Help me decide how to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day of reading time.
August 22, 2012 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me decide how to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day of reading time.

I am spending far, far too much time thinking about this, so I turn to you, Ask MeFi, to help me make a decision.

I want to dedicate a(t least a) small amount of time each day to reading something educational. I have narrowed down my choices to these:

1. Read the Economist each week.

2. Read through a "classics" reading list. I am happy to pick my own (I love reading lists), but feel free to suggest something.

3. Read things that relate specifically to the field I am studying, which is economics. I have seen this and this, yes. I would very likely read recent books that relate to finance, politics, and economics if I went this route.

This could also end up as a combination of 1 and 2 or 3, as I can probably get through the Economist in less than 2.5 hours a week (though I may not have that much time--this is going to depend on how well I handle homework and work).

To help you advise me, I will mention that my goals in life revolve around writing more than anything else, but that I do also want to be a good economist. The former is why I consider 2 to be a good idea (I am not nearly as well read as I feel I need to be), but really, either way is going to be good for me. For me, reading The Economist is all about staying informed and thinking about current economic and political issues.

Note that I am also spending a small amount of time each day working on writing (a small amount is all I can afford right now, unfortunately), so do not need to be told to do that. Note, as well, that I read as much as I can, but I tend to read fun things when I have spare time rather than anything that requires a lot of thought (and there is a chance that my answer here is "only ever read edifying things," but oh, that makes me feel tired).

What would you do, if you were me?
posted by hought20 to Education (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
15-30 minutes a day isn't much but you mind me of myself. :) With such limited time I would use an RSS reader and "filter" for items that I was specifically interested in by doing a saved search. I believe this is possible with Google Reader and a few other RSS readers. You could find RSS feeds for any of the items you mentioned above including the classics. If this is for pleasure then skip the economics stuff to give your mind a break from what you're already studying.
posted by locussst at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2012

2. Read through a "classics" reading list. I am happy to pick my own (I love reading lists), but feel free to suggest something.

I am currently doing this; I am using the reading list in The Well Educated Mind. There are journaling exercises outlined in the book, focused on journaling for comprehension, which may or may not appeal to you as a writer. (I am a wannabe writer and extensively journal, but didn't want to do the exercises, but YMMV.)

At any rate, it's a good book if you want a thought out classics reading list. She breaks it down into several sections: novels, histories, autobiographies, drama, poetry.
posted by peacrow at 6:56 AM on August 22, 2012

I'm not a professional writer, but it seems to me you'd be best off reading whatever is closest to the type of thing you hope to write. If you want to be a journalist, #1, a novelist #2 or an academic author #3. If none of the above, then maybe #2 is the most widely applicable, especially if your list of classics is skewed towards your eventual goals.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would read an essay or two by economic historian E. P. Thompson, who is a lovely and entertaining writer, and whose juicy data nicely backs up his valuable insights, which polemically engage conventional economic wisdom. His collection Customs in Common includes my personal favorite, 'The Moral Economy of the English Crowd'.

I would also read Can We Put an End to Sweatshops?, a very slim volume dealing with a high-stakes practical problem (which also has important theoretical implications for the heavyweights on your reading list). Policy wonkery can be gripping due to its big real-world stakes, but also mind-numbingly in its technicalities: this has the first but not the second. This piece is even shorter than it looks, since the book includes as an appendix a variety of critical responses.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:16 AM on August 22, 2012

The Economist is overrated (tendentious, selective, glib). Pare the 2.5 hr/wk at that to ~1 hr max.
posted by lathrop at 7:17 AM on August 22, 2012

I'm a professional writer and I'd suggest seeking out writers who are good stylists, so you'll be soaking up good habits while educating and amusing yourself. You'd be surprised how good writing can rub off on you if you love it and are sensitive to it. Look for writers known for clarity, grace, precision and wit (those would be my criteria anyway). Orwell, E.B. White, Bellow, Martin Amis, Nabokov, Trillin, Updyke, Twain, Diane Johnson, Mary Karr, Barbara Kingsolver, Zadie Smith, John McPhee, you get the idea. Good luck.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:19 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hell, even Henry James; live a little!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:20 AM on August 22, 2012

The Economist is pretty mass-market, so while it might be an entertaining use of your 30 minutes per day, it doesn't seem likely to pay off in terms of breadth or accuracy of information. If economics is your bag, then either reading the classics of economics, or (if you've got access to a library) keeping up with the top scholarly journals in the field would probably be a much more productive way to strengthen your grasp of the field.

If you're concerned about the boredom factor of "edifying" reading, I'd say definitely start on the classics, vs. more current stuff. Even in economics, the non-fiction writing of past eras tends to be much livelier and less dense than that of the past ~100 years, when political economy was gradually getting absorbed into the academy. Plus it can be pretty useful (not to mention very ego-gratifying) to be the only one in an ec conversation who's actually read, say, Adam Smith, vs. vaguely "knowing what he said".
posted by Bardolph at 7:24 AM on August 22, 2012

Personally, if I were a grad student with a job (and apparently an adorable bebbeh) and only able to devote short bursts to semi-recreational reading during the day, I would focus on short-format reading material.

I don't know where you are in your graduate program, or how long/how much flexibility you will have to incorporate #2 and #3 into your degree program. If you're in a PhD program (or plan to undertake one eventually), I'd think that #3 would be covered eventually as part of your routine coursework. And you may be able to work in #2 as well, if there is any option to take individualized reading seminars in your program.

I did few such focused seminars during the course of my PhD program and they were a great way to not just read or be familiar with, but get conversant with, a metric shitload of background works in those areas of interest. Because reading the text is only half the battle--you need to know how the texts are being discussed, interpreted, and used/challenged in the contemporary context if you want to incorporate your familiarity into your own writing (academic or otherwise).
posted by drlith at 7:32 AM on August 22, 2012

Thank you so much for indulging me, y'all! You have convinced me to skip the Economist (I think I'll just make sure I have NPR on in the car to keep up with news and such, which I mostly do anyway, or maybe I'll make an effort to burn some newsy podcasts to CD). Due to your suggestions, I have settled on making my own list of things to read, with a lot of short-format and the occasional book. It will alternate between economics and just good writing (stylists, as fivesavagepalms suggests, but I will try to make sure it's a good mix of non-fiction and fiction), and I will use annotated versions of things that need it, because I will unfortunately not have the chance to go to seminars on cool things like this (because, fortunately, I am not doing a PhD--would love the fun classes, but not the boring ones and not the time spent getting the degree).

Now I am going to go waste another bit of time starting this list. Oh, yes.
posted by hought20 at 9:51 AM on August 22, 2012

I am not an economist, but if you are looking to read some classics, I would recommend Anna Karenina as one of the main characters, Levin, thinks a lot about society and the role of peasants and "royalty" (land-owners). I found Levin's thoughts to be quite applicable to our current economic questions.
posted by jillithd at 11:04 AM on August 22, 2012

I think it's probably better for you to read fiction books. I find that the mind really benefits from cross-training.

But why must you choose? Why not alternate reading material? You could alternate by day, week, month, or by work, reading a fiction book and then an economics book and so forth.
posted by ErikaB at 12:04 PM on August 22, 2012

As a former librarian, I have found that most patrons considered most of the classics boring. Here are a few that were almost universally liked:
Les Miserable
A Christmas Carol
Call of the Wild
The Old Man and the Sea
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Outsiders
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
posted by luvmywife at 2:34 PM on August 22, 2012

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