Post Academic

Hoarders, Academic Edition: The Quicksand Conundrum

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 8, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionArnold is drowning in Quicksand, but not the kind of Quicksand you think. He owns way too many copies of Nella Larsen’s book, many of them with notes inside. Most academics are in this situation as they accumulate new editions of the books that are the cornerstones of their work.

One of the reasons Arnold lists for keeping so many editions is the following: “One day, I might need to look at the marginal notes or underlinings, in order for me to reconstruct the (very facile and naive) argument that I came up with at the time.”

The best way to tackle this problem is to compile all the notes into a single edition. To save time re-writing the notes in the margins of a clean copy, download the notes program Evernote, which allows you to use tags and search through notes.

Then re-evaluate those notes. If the arguments were indeed “facile and naïve,” dump ‘em, and type out the notes that have more scholarly value. Record the book and date of the edition, and put the page number where you left the note, along with the quotation you were responding to. This exercise will prove useful as you gather the notes and reflect on how you used the books. Either that, or you’ll wonder what drugs you were taking when you were reading the books in the first place.

Don’t have time to collate your notes? Then just toss the book in the trash or give it away because Powell’s won’t take a marked-up copy, and if you don’t have time to go through the notes now, you won’t have time later.

In the end, you should end up with two books at most—the edition that featured your best notes and a clean edition so you don’t lose your mind the next time you read the book.

Quicksand warning sign at Little Paxton Pits near St Neots, Cambridgeshire, England. Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 24 September 2005. Posted on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

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