I’ve thoroughly enjoyed week one of this reading and writing project though I’m thoroughly aware that its ambitious scope is probably in need of a reassessment. First, other folks who have done similar work – 365 days of reading, quest to read a book a day, etc. – don’t always write about everything. Second, as anyone who has tried, writing can be difficult. I don’t mean the kind of writing I do here – this style is not particularly elegant nor, frankly, difficult. It’s when I sit and scrunch up my face, purse my lips a bit and think about what I want to say about a text that I run into problems, blocks etc.
Then there’s life. I’ve been able to work through a lot of these texts this week because my daily grind of advising and grading has been slashed, but that doesn’t stop graduation ceremonies, t-ball, first communions, dates with my wife, eating, etc. from getting “in the way” of the book or pen/computer screen.
Also, I did not set any parameters for this project – no rules about how many or how few pages or style of texts. I fell into a pattern this week of every other book being pulled from the bookshelf while the others emerged from the library collection of potential source books for courses I’m teaching or research. This decision means a wide range of lengths and styles, some heavy with citations and others completely absent of footnotes. The Breen text was the longest thus far and was a push at some 326 or so pages. As a result, I decided that Sundays might be a good day to collect myself, edit or add material to the previous week’s posts, and prep for the next week’s round of books.
Then there’s my preferred writing style which I’m not sure is going to work for this project and, frankly, which I have yet to employ. I like to grasp a nice flowing pen, preferably some kind of gel ink type, a legal pad, and simply write. Whatever words come down on the page are fine by me, even if they have nothing to do with the books I’m reading and reviewing. It’s in the typing that the real edits start, and even then I’m not always that conscientious. We’ll see if I can get back into this style at some point during the summer months.
A final thought or two should be offered on reading I suppose. Years ago, when preparing for either grading undergraduate papers or my graduate level comprehensive exams, I got in the habit of constantly reading material whether it be fiction or non-fiction alongside coursework assignments and necessary historiographies, book reviews, and research articles. The fiction particularly, but some non-fiction news articles, aided me immensely, though on more than one occasion a professor looked askance at me and said “How can you possible have time for that?” What worked for me was what I called ‘priming the pump.’ I read, say an Agatha Christie novel, while preparing for my comprehensive exams in the history of the American west. I might read a chapter or two of Christie and then drop it, switching to Patty Limerick or Richard White or Donald Worster. These books, perhaps challenging in many ways for style, content, etc. almost opened themselves to me – there’s no other way to describe it. The texts became light and swift to my eyes and I could both read quickly and retain information better, having read the novel(s) first. Here’s hoping that this summer this old strategy works once more, and that I’ll finally dig into research on reading enough to find out what to officially call my habit.