In a few weeks, I will head to the field again, and since I started this blog, I have become a little more reflexive about my reading. Now as I am leaving, I was wondering about what colleagues read while in the field. I was thinking that sometimes, we literally don’t have time to read anything while on the road, because we still believe that every second the most important thing of the entire trip could happen, revealing to us the clue to finally understand the people of that extraordinary place and time (which is why we don’t sleep, also). Yet, my experience has also been that there’s sometimes pretty long flights or train or bus rides, or we just end up alone in a hotel room without much to do for the rest of the day. Or, yet another possibility, we organize our field trips in ways that include special reading periods, where we can check back with that concept of place or this theory on ritual, etc.
In the last case, my question is already answered. But in a more general way, I would like to know what you read while doing field research? Do you prefer fiction from the region you’re working in? Or something as different as possible, like, say a thriller from 18th century Norway while doing research on popular dance in Cuba? Or Science Fiction? Do you skip fiction altogether while in the field, but instead go with classic descriptions of other people’s field works a la Malinowski or Lévi-Strauss? Books on Methodology, even? Or do you just grab whatever crosses your way at the airport bookstore?
I wonder about these questions, because I think the books I chose to accompany me while away might have an impact on what I do there. There’s always the possibility of finding inspiration for things to watch out for, or make me aware of things I might have otherwise missed. So in a way, a careful selection of readings might help me in the field. But it can also go wrong, of course, as was the case on my very first real field research as a B.A. student. I had Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 with me, and retrospectively might have spend more time with it than with doing interviews. So the right book can also turn out to be wrong. I’m curious about your experiences. Let me know what you read!