Help! There’s someone in my head and it isn’t me …

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These are a few of the personas I assume while reading (some intentional, some not). Each describes a different style, purpose or feeling that shapes my reading.

A few of my blogger colleagues have written about reading. One colleague suggests we must read like a mongrel. Another suggests we read in different ways according to where we are as academics. I offer my take on this – there are different personas I assume when reading – depending on what, why and when I am reading, how I feel about the text and its place in relation to my writing.

“Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice” a #HullEdD researcher  (or a stranger in paradigm*)

Reading implies a willingness to caste yourself adrift in a sea of bewilderment. In this phase of reading (which is never a chosen phase) I feel caught up in an underwater labyrinth, required – not to read but to wrestle – with text. The language, the references, the style of writing everything feels strange. This feeling of frustration changes to some extent with time. But, while I’d like to think this phase passes with experience, it doesn’t. Fine, I now understand strange unfamiliar concepts and can usually speak and write in passable academic language. But, the moment I tackle a new body of literature – that feeling of being a stranger (in paradigm) returns.


The magpie likes shiney little things and is happy to borrow them to build her own unique collage. She’s expert at spotting them from a distance and swoops down to collect and keep them. When I read like a magpie, it’s often because I am not entirely sure how what I am reading fits into my emerging theoretical framework. The text is interesting, broadly relevant but precisely where, how or if it fits will only become clear to me much later. But I like to collect statements, phrases, words and signposts along the way. You never know when they might come in handy.


As a conversationalist I am my most confident reader. Here I assume the position of a peer.  The published texts that I read, written by people whose names are at other times reverentially listed in brackets, are no longer social theory heroes to be held in respectful awe. They are readers, writers and researchers whose ideas are interesting but – in some instances – flawed. I like in this phase playing name check bingo – ticking off how many of the quoted in bracket references I have read. Exploring the extent to which the argument put forward in the text convinces me.  I love as a conversational reader that shock of recognition. That moment when reading when you see and experience, an idea and shard of something that’s not entirely clear to you – presented and theorised on paper. It resonates. Changes your mind or makes it up. This is another kind of wrestling. What the conversationalist reads is to be questioned, criticised, tucked away for later or put to work.

Private Detective

The private detective is my favourite reading persona. When I read like this I am driven, intense, determined and ruthless. I don’t quite know what I am looking for, though I usually have a strong hunch. I’ll follow any possible thread through and carefully review – step by deliberate step – every clue that I have. There are occasionally false trails – but that doesn’t matter. I can save them until later. The thing is I start without a clue of what’s going on. I then get a few ideas that I follow through and by the end – based on what I have been able to find out – I am able to present a coherent and convincing case.

The recluse

What I love most about reading is getting completely caught up in the text. Engaging with ideas that excite and challenge me. In this phase everything seems like an intrusion. I need concentrated focus and the right text to get to this persona. It helps if the iPad, mobile phone and lap top are in another room. I also have to be a little bit disciplined with myself – in my most fidgety days – I have a timer and work in 45 minutes blocks.  That is 45 minutes work, 5 minutes coffee break, followed by 45 minutes reading – for as many as I can. Timer goes on and – for 45 minutes – under no circumstances – door bell, phone call, hungry husband, email or tweet – do I move.

* I owe this one to Gary Thomas

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