Shipping your personal books to England

I have had a few chats now with folks here as to whether it is wise to send your own books to England for use during your doctoral studies.  I offer my own thoughts here.

When I was still at Gordon-Conwell, I asked a Gordon College prof who studied at Aberdeen if  I should ship my books.  He said that he went with only a handful of books (4-5?  mostly monographs) and did not feel like he ever regretted that.  I was told similar things by other profs who studied in England.  Shipping is expensive, and in England PhD students can check books out for about 6 months at a time, and you can (at Durham) have 30 books at once.  Nevertheless, because  we shipped a large freight unit of goods (partly because of our baby stuff), it was reasonable to add book boxes at a much better rate than air shipping.  So, I sent about 200 books, about 1/2 my library.  I sent a few monographs, a few introductory books, and loads of commentaries and reference books (like bible dictionaries).  I don’t regret it at all, because I have used my books quite a bit.  Since I like to offer bullet points and lists, here are some organized thoughts.  Consider these factors:

1. Library – does the institution you are studying at have a decent collection in your subject area.  Find the library catalog online and do some searching.  See if they have the books you might want to ship.  If they don’t, all the more reason.

2. Kinds of Books: Chances are, in a doctoral thesis, introductory books and short commentaries are not going to be referenced frequently.  If you are studying Romans, take Romans commentaries, but leave the James commentaries at home (sorry James).

3. Electronic/Online – many resources are on Logos (which I recommend) and also you can utilize Amazon.com and Google – especially for commentaries.  I may never buy a commentary again (don’t tell Amazon!).  Ok, lets not be hasty.  But, don’t overlook these options.  Also, searchable resources are extremely handy.

4. Space- Will you have room in your flat for books? Warning -Bookcases are very expensive.

5. Best Books: The best books to send are ones you know you will use frequently (duh!).  I recommend IVP’s black dictionaries, SBL Handbook, Language textbooks (Greek, Hebrew, German, Latin, French), a good German dictionary, etc…

6. Planning for US Visits – we plan on going to the US about 1-2 times per year.  I pick up some books from home when I go to the US.  Also, I take some books I have in the UK back to the US that I don’t think I’ll need anymore.

7. Notes: If you like to write in your books, as I do, you may need to bring those books that will be most tempting.  Never, under any circumstances, write in a library book.  Shame on you people who do that!  Writing in libraries for scholars is like someone spitting in your food at a restaurant!

8. Influences – in a way, the books on hand in your study will probably be used often by you and in some way will shape your thesis.  Keep that in mind.  I have chosen books that represent those people who have most influenced me – Jimmy Dunn, John Barclay, IH Marshall, Ben Witherington, Tom Wright, Richard Hays, etc…

9. Distance – How far do you/will you live from the library.  I am about a 30 minute walk.  That means I only venture to the library about once a week.  So, I am more motivated to have good books on hand.

10. Study Environment – Some people like to study in libraries – really.  As for me, I like to study at home.  So, that makes some difference.

The decision to ship books in different for everyone.  Many people simply do not have books advanced enough for serious use in doctoral studies.  I was lucky to have worked for Hendrickson and CBD where I could get my hands on monographs and more expensive resources for cheap.  That is partly why I sent so many books.  If you have mostly commentaries, unless they are hot off the press, the library will probably have it.  I have found that the four or five published dissertation monographs I have in my library have been of great use for the purposes of a model to follow.  Also, the dictionaries and reference books have helped.  My introductory books on the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha are often turned to.  My copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls is handy as are my Charlesworth OTP volumes (Hopefully NA27 and BHS go without saying).

Hope this helps.

As a final note – be careful not to assume what books you will need and which you will not.  When I arrived, after about 5-6 weeks my topic started to change and the books I thought were going to crucial are now just peripheral.  I don’t regret shipping them, but it is something to keep in mind.

What I Learned for Reading My First Paper at a Conference

This past weekend I read a paper at the OT in NT Seminar (conveniently) located in Durham.  As it was my first, I was very nervous, but the group is warm and encouraging and the criticisms were irenic and constructive.  That having been said, I can share some observations about what I saw regarding other papers and about my own experience.

1. Write a short enough paper that you feel the freedom to talk slowly.  Talk so slowly that it barely feels awkward- it won’t seem that way to the audience and they will appreciate it more.

2. Even if you wrote the paper with publication (as an article) in mind, try to excise lists of verses, facts and figures.  This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.  If you need such information because it is essential to your argument, be sure and provide a handout.

3. Give the attendees a handout with an outline of your talk and the English (and Greek/Hebrew) of the main verses you are dealing with.  The outline will prevent anyone from feeling too lost in the paper, and also will let them see your rhetorical progression (which can only help you).

4. When you state a key sentence, feel free to stop and repeat it.  I didn’t do that, but a friend did and it was useful.

5. Always thank the chair and attendees for allowing your paper to be read and for coming to the session.  You never want to take for granted the privilege of reading your thoughts to others and receiving engagement.  A small percentage of the world is able to do this.

6. Have a pen with you when you read the paper – you will (not might) spot grammatical/spelling errors in your manuscript.

7. Have a notepad to jot down feedback from questions.  Also, make a note of who asked what questions.  If you don’t know them, try to meet them afterwards.  If they are well known, this could be notable when you publish the paper: ‘This essay originated as a paper read at [xyz conference] and I am particularly grateful for the feedback provided by [mrs. abc]“.  Is this self-serving…yes.  But, if its true that the feedback helped, then whats the big deal?

8. Refrain from getting defensive and hostile when you are asked questions.  Remember – you were approved to read this paper, so someone (or a group) agreed that what you had to say was worth hearing, right?  Is it OK to answer, ‘I don’t know’?  Well, as a PhD I would say it is not career breaking.  If you were a tenured professor, it is a bit more shameful.  Take a minute to think about what the person said.  Try to answer as best you can, but it is OK to say, ‘Thanks for the question.  I will have to think about that more.’  Also, in a short 30 minute paper, you cannot include every bit of evidence that supports your argument (usually).  Most people understand that.

9. At the bottom of a handout I provided, I put my blog address and made a link on the blog to the paper so the attendees could download it and read it over and email me more feedback.  This is becoming more popular and I welcome it.  The more feedback the better.

10. Perhaps it is a small thing, but have a bottle or glass of water on hand when you talk.  30-45 minutes of talking non-stop is taxing on the throat. Plus, the added pause is helpful for listeners.

11.  Have two copies of your talk – an extra just in case you spill water/food on your original.  Don’t risk it!

12. What if no one asks a question?  This is very unlikely, but you can have some questions ready for them.  Ask, did anyone feel that such and such a section was unnecessary?  Or, did anyone think that such and such a part was confusing?  Perhaps this will spur on their thoughts.

13. Some people feel free to deviate from their paper manuscript to explain something extra and give clarification. I would recommend avoiding this.  Digressions almost always eat more time than you think.  Next thing you know you went 10 minutes over into the next person’s paper.  tsk tsk tsk!

Also, remember two things – First, Doug Stuart used to say that only 10% of your job in preparing a lecture is actually preping the lecture material.  90% is being prepared for questions.  This is a good attitude to have for reading a paper.  Have your paper footnotes as additional evidence.  Second, and this will hopefully put your mind at ease, the Q & A time will not last much longer than 15 minutes.  After that, you are all done.  Treat yourself to Dinky Donuts – I did!