Productive reading: analysis

Good teachers will always recommend that you “read and…” Which means that you read and look for solutions for problems you have in your own writing, build your vocabulary, discover what excites you as a reader, watch how the dialogue unfolds, etc.  And one of the best ways to launch your analysis is to ask questions of the author. Ask questions Let’s say you’re writing non-fiction.  In that case, the books you’re studying will give you the stakes up front.  They will tell you what to expect, what question they intend to pose and answer, and, essentially, what they will conclude (although they might be coy about that last bit). Therefore, you can immediately ask the first question: Will this book center/expand/challenge my work? If so, keep reading and form new questions about pacing, approach, tone, organization, burden of proof, etc.  If you think the book won’t help you…move on.  I know that seems cutthroat, but if you tried to

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Productive reading: the scope

Published authors give lots of advice to aspiring writers, but universal among that advice is this: You have to read a lot, and you have to read widely. Reading Within Genre My initial response to this advice was…immature at best. I was working on the first draft of my novel, back in high school, when I decided that all the classic literature I had been assigned would fit the bill, and that I would stop reading sci-fi and fantasy altogether so that no one would ever accuse me of stealing my ideas from other genre authors. That meant, in 1999, I gave up Sword of Shannara, from which I had been learning the rules of world-building.  I stopped reading Harry Potter, which had been teaching me which reader expectations could be broken, and which could be reinvented.  I abandoned my beloved Star Trek serial novels and The Wheel of Time, which were teaching me how characters can develop over a

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23:32

Huzzah, it’s my birthday! The perfect occasion on which to get all introspective.  Or at least more so than other days. I must say, I’m excited to turn 32.  I much prefer even-numbered years, for reasons I can’t quite explain, and since 8 is my lucky number, this year should be especially great, since 32 is divisible by 8 four times. Oh snap. I’m also excited to turn 32 for more “real” reasons, though. Reason 1: My dissertation is in a good place I don’t want to say much more than that.  One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that if I expend too much energy talking about the intricacies of what engages me, or the excitement of it, I lose the magic.  Sort of like if I let an actual cat out of an actual bag, and the cat turned around and was like, fuck you, man, you put me in a bag!? and

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Uncoverage as a model for doing history: a personal testimonial

One of the major debates in the teaching of history right now is whether you should cover or uncover history. The first model, coverage, is likely the model you’ve experienced in your high school history classroom.  The teacher presents scads of information to you, chronologically or thematically ordered, and you read until your brain explodes, taking copious notes and memorizing lists, dates, names, all without much connection from one topic to the next. Sometimes you luck out with a brilliant lecturer, but more often than not, this model ends up as boring and alienating.  It’s the reason people tell me they hate history. When you uncover history, though, as proposed by Lendol Calder in “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey” you start with method–research approaches, question formation–and then you go and find the answers to your questions.  This model is beneficial for a number of major reasons. First, when you formulate your own research questions, rather than

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