For the gazillionth time, will someone tell me NOT to get into arguments with strangers on the internet? Sometimes I’m such an idiot. I need to put a copy of this over my computer or something.
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I sat in the coffeeshop a couple of days ago and read a 264 page book in three hours.
Okay, well, it was 264 pages of word documents that, put together, will be a book, so not REALLY 264 pages.
And it was a collection of essays, so it wasn’t like I had to muster the energy to read a book-length exposition on something; I had to read ten essay-length pieces, each of which requires much less energy to figure out.
And the reason I had to read them was to see what connections I could make to my own essay for the collection, so it wasn’t like I had to read very closely – once I figured out there were no real connections, I skimmed like a madwoman.
So, really, it wasn’t that much of an accomplishment. But I still FEEL accomplished, darn it.
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Why is it that the one essay with which my own had the greatest connections had to be the stinker in the collection? Seriously, in its current state it was both slender and incoherent. It has the potential to be interesting, and there’s still time for revisions, of course, but I really didn’t understand what its argument was – it read like one of those “let me throw out random observations and hope they stick together” kinds of essays. (It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding disciplinary conventions/differences and such an essay is perfectly okay in the author’s discipline, but I don’t think so.) I should probably read it again.
One author was fond of doing what my students often did, linking two independent clauses with “, however.”
One essay fell into the “one damn fact after another” trap. In some ways, I think I was poorly suited to be a historian, because I have very little patience with narrative – and that’s what this essay was: narrative. This happened, then that happened, then this happened, then that happened. Such writing bores me to tears. But the problem was that the essay said very little about the significance of what happened. That is, it stated that the events/actions showed us how [theme of the collection] played out in [historical context], but just stated that in the introduction and the conclusion, and didn’t say anything along the way about what was interesting about this particular expression of [theme of the collection]. And there was no attention to what these specific events had to say about [theme of the collection] more broadly. That is, it’s kind of like saying, “Trees are important to a community. Community X has oak trees, elm trees, aspen trees, cottonwood trees, and the occasional maple tree. Trees are important to a community.” Okay, but what do Community X’s different kinds of trees tell us about how tree are important to a community? It’s almost like the author took [theme of the collection] as a given and said, “here’s an example of it.” But s/he didn’t use hir evidence to illuminate [theme of the collection]; it was more like the theme of the collection gave her an excuse to talk about stuff s/he wanted to talk about anyway.
(I don’t really think it’s just my problem with narrative, because there was another, very similar kind of essay in the collection, but that author did a good job of making clear hir argument about how the specific events s/he described illuminated something specific about [theme of the collection].)
The one thing to be said about the narrative essay is that I think it’s easier to punch up the significance and broader implications in what was otherwise a perfectly solid essay, than to render coherent the incoherent.
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Some of you will be wholly unsurprised to find that once I’d read the whole, it was clear to me that my essay connected most strongly with the essays by literature scholars, rather than those by historians.
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It was kind of weird to sit down and do something scholarly for the first time in about six weeks – and especially to think about medieval history again, rather than trying to imagine what law school will be like.
It was nice to discover that my brain still works, though.
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And after I did all that scholarly stuff, I drove to a ritzy mall and drooled over a whole bunch of things at Sephora and JJill. The biggest downside to returning to school? NO. MONEY.
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The high is supposed to be 101˚ today. Wheeee! I’d better head to the grocery store now, while the temperature is still something less than molten lava.