Now is the time of year most people look forward to: the holiday season. For my colleagues in academia especially, now is a good time for a bit of a rest and also a chance to prepare for the new year. This isn’t the case for everyone, as some of my friends are currently preparing for comprehensive exams in January. For others, getting together final touches on syllabi is an important part of December. For that matter, dissertation writing is also going on. After all, what better time to get that chapter done than right now?
I’m not yet at the point of comps…although I will be after next semester (what is that I hear? A clock ticking?). I am trying to edit and revise at least one research paper and turn it into a potential article. But beyond that, now’s as good a time as any to get some serious reading done. Thinking back on Tim Lacy’s open thread, there I raised the idea of reading both history and fiction over the break. It has become almost a yearly tradition for me to prepare a reading list for the holiday break. Yet, I know that now is as good a time as any to read fiction as well as history.
It’s easy to become enveloped by history reading in graduate school. Between classes, research, more research, and just wanting to stay up with trends in your field of study, reading scholarly monographs is a constant. Allowing your mind to consume other forms of reading, however, is crucial. Most of my friends in academia (and quite a few outside of it for that matter) mention trying to read the occasional novel, if only to give their mind a break from other intellectual pursuits. It’s imperative to remember, however, that reading a novel is also a gateway to an equally stimulating intellectual pursuit, one that most academics need to take advantage of at any cost.
So sure, I’m going to finally get around to reading Paul Murphy’s The Rebuke of History. But next to it will be Chimamanda Adiche’s Americanah, about the adventures of young West Africans in the United States. Granted, the juxtaposition of books about Southern Agrarians and modern cosmopolitan Africans is, for lack of a better term, intriguing, but I offer it here as a reminder that now is as good a time as any to stretch and gently exercise the mind. I offer that I have my own biases here, as my academic career began with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing. I too often lament the fact that I haven’t a word of fiction in years, and have barely read more than that in terms of short stories and novels over the same time span.
Sure, I’m more than happy I finally have a chance to read Houston Baker’s Betrayal, about Black intellectuals after the Civil Rights era. But I’ll be just as happy to find some science fiction and devour that too. I often see my love of science fiction and sports as my twin guilty pleasures. Yet, I suppose such things are important for having balance in one’s life—even if that balance includes rooting for such teams as the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons in 2013. I and my friends often engage in friendly banter about how little “balance” we have in our lives during the semester. But I’m all too aware that I try too hard to set myself apart from others, consumed with reading and writing.
The winter break is a chance to do many things. As a historian in training (and really, when does such training ever end? Never, which is a good thing.) I find myself with a single-track mind of doing all I can to become a better historian. But I also need to remind myself that reading a good novel isn’t a bad thing. Watching a sporting event with friends isn’t the worst use of my time. And, most important of all, a recharge with family back home, away from other distractions, is an excellent use of the holiday season.
Balance is the name of the game. And before I resume reading Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams, before I pre-order the new David Chappell book on Black Americans after 1968 (Waking from the Dream), it is sufficient to sit back on my couch and simply allow my mind to wander. If only for a moment or two.