Reading Beyond Your Reading List

Do you stick with what you are told to read? If you go about it in the right way then you can read a lot more and relate your knowledge to the required syllabus.

Yesterday in the learning category we spoke about ways of increasing your interest in a class you find dry. By relating your motivational passions to the subject in a creative and supportive manner, and approaching the subject through a perspective that you find inspiring, an otherwise tedious topic can become easier to study. Similar considerations apply also to your required reading list.

You may find the list more than long enough and later this week we will be looking at some good advice on reading skills but here we are considering the advantages of expanding your reading to cover authors and titles not listed as required. On the reading list handed out for any given lecture series you will see two categories. One is obligatory reading that forms the basis of the course the other is additional suggested reading. It is in the area of suggested reading that you may choose to add something that you have discovered and find inspiring. This is not to say that you ignore the literature suggested by your lecturer but as it is not required reading you might read one, familiarize yourself with another and then read something you have chosen yourself.

To give a concrete example: When I was taking a seminar course on Islamic Art and we were looking at Safavid miniatures I quickly noticed how often the theme of love had been used by these excellent artists and discovered that their miniatures were based on many of the traditional folk stories of Muslim lands. In turn some of these stories were used by the great Sufi writers and poets to illustrate points of spiritual learning such as the longing of the mystic for union with God. A love story serves as an appropriate metaphor for this endeavor.

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University libraries are full of wonderful treasures waiting to be discovered by students and I discovered several books that told those stories and explored them for perennial themes such as the hero. This was a rich addition to my studies and guided me in my decision of a topic for the art project we were required to complete as part of our assessment.

When creating a reading list a lecturer has to make choices and inevitably some worthwhile reading matter has to be left out. This does not mean that it is not valuable. As noted in the article on using extracurricular interests to support and underline your work in class, the same applies here. This is not about going off on a tangent so that your lecturer cannot recognize the material she taught as being present in your essays. It is about enriching the subject with your own discoveries and developing yourself as an independent scholar.