ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Tag: academic stuff

ReaderWriterLinks

Andy Miller, who runs the Booklisted podcast among other things, writes a funny piece about being shamed, or at least mildly chastised, for the number of books he’s read. The fact that this happened at a book festival adds a special valence to the experience.

Now. Making an audience at a literary festival boo you for reading books is clearly some kind of shit achievement. And in one respect, I was not entirely telling the truth. In the year in question, I had not read ‘something like’ [XXX] books; I knew it was precisely [XXX] books. Why did I equivocate? Perhaps I sensed at that moment that the crowd was turning against me and it was necessary to self-deprecate as a matter of urgency. But that ‘something like’ was nothing like enough. What I should have said was ‘I don’t know exactly how many! A lot! I don’t get out much haha! Hahaha!’ And the audience, sniffing the air, would have turned its slavering attention to Lionel Shriver or someone and lumbered off in pursuit of where she gets her ideas from.

It’s true that if you cut down your time online and fill your discretionary time with reading, you can get through a lot of books. I certainly read more now than I did when I was more active on Twitter and Dear Author. But there is a performative aspect to telling people how much you read that is very much part of the online age (after all, this started because of Miller’s tweets). We don’t just read, we tell people we read, and not just what it is and what we thought of it, but where it fits in our total reading experience. I’m not sure where to draw the line between interaction and performance, but they aren’t the same thing.


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ReaderWriterLinks

Courtesy of the Chronicle, here’s a depressing story about the decline in reading (both the act of reading and reading comprehension):

The scores of fourth- and eighth-graders on reading tests have climbed steadily since the 1990s, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But those of 12th-graders have fallen. Just 37 percent of high-school seniors graduate with “proficiency” in reading, meaning they can read a text for both its literal and its inferential meanings.

The problem seems to extend to life after college. In 1992 and 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics studied American adults’ prose, document, and quantitative literacy (respectively, the ability to do things like read news articles, to read maps and food labels, and to balance a checkbook). The results, experts said, were “appalling.” College graduates’ math skills, statistically, hadn’t budged. But their prose and document literacy had declined. While those with bachelor’s and graduate degrees maintained the highest levels of literacy overall, those groups also experienced the steepest declines. Just 31 percent of college graduates were considered proficient readers in 2003, by that test’s definition, down from 40 percent in 1992. (International studies show similar trends. More data allowing comparison of adult literacy over time is expected this year.)

I teach a writing-intensive course for upper-level undergraduates every year, and I force them to write short response papers on the readings (you can’t write about a subject if you don’t understand what you’ve read on it). I teach at a highly selective institution, my students work very hard, they are able to devote most of their time to their studies, and yet they mostly don’t complete the assigned reading unless they are penalized for not doing so. It’s frustrating but it’s something we need to confront. Reading is just not that popular an activity anymore, even among the most highly educated. And even prestigious, selective colleges emphasize social and other non-academic aspects of student life as much as they do in-class learning, so there are more officially certified, built-in distractions that we didn’t have when we were in school. I don’t want to make college only about class experiences, but if people who clearly do enjoy learning aren’t treating scholarly and leisure book and article reading as integral to their daily lives, how can we expect it of everyone else?


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Weeknote 3

It felt like a busier week than it probably was, in part because I had unexpected appointments (and cancellations) that changed the way I thought it would unfold.

Work

I’m done with letters and recommendations for the season, I’m pretty sure. But I kept meeting with grad students and undergrads. They are rewarding, no question, but I have to prepare for them.

I was supposed to be in town in part to participate in the campus visit of a distinguished professor of South Asian studies who would be giving public lectures and smaller presentations as well as lunching and dining with faculty and university officers. Alas, the giant storm that blew through the center of the country made it impossible for the Distinguished Visitor to visit. It was a big disappointment, not only because these visits are organized months in advance, but also because the talks and meetings promised to be particularly interesting. I hope it can be rescheduled.

I also had impromptu meetings about department issues that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. And yes, I’m supposed to be not meeting on this stuff, but that’s not always feasible. At least I’m out of town for this week’s slate of important stuff. Here’s hoping I won’t retrospectively wish I’d been there for them.

Writing, what is that? Oh yeah, I remember!

Reading/Listening

I finished the two books I talked about last week and they were just as good as I thought they’d be. I owe you reviews of them, and they’re coming, I promise! I paused for a bit, because when you finish two excellent reads it can be hard to pivot to something new. I burned time reading about the books on the BTBA longlist and tracking them down via Overdrive, Hoopla, and ebook vendors. I’m still not going to read them all! But there are some intriguing books on there and at least half of the longlist is available either on loan or at reasonable prices to buy.

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Weeknote 2

Another Sunday, another Weeknote. And already I’m feeling a bit stressed because I didn’t finish what I meant to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything, just other things.

Work

The paper is closer to being off my desk but not yet off my desk. I cracked something that had been eluding me for a couple of weeks, though, so that was progress. Now it’s a matter of getting it down on paper. I should have the bulk of it to my coauthor by Tuesday and then it will take another day or two to polish off the rest of what I need to do, while he’s working on the part I’ve given him.

I had multiple meetings about administrative stuff with colleagues this week. Of course I’m not supposed to but that’s the price you pay when you go to the office. And when things need to get done or they’ll be bigger and much worse when it is the proper time to work on them. But I think we solved a couple of issues that I couldn’t have addressed by myself, and I should be able to move stuff on to the next round this week. If I tie myself to a chair, since writing memos is not in the top 100 things I enjoy doing. Bullet points! Problem-solution format!

One more letter of recommendation and some emails. A doddle.

I was about to type: and then maybe I can get back to other writing I’ve been wanting to do. Which is exactly the wrong way to think about it. It has to be incorporated into all this other stuff I’m doing. One of the mistakes academics who devote a lot of time and attention to teaching make is to think you can do the other work, the non-outward-facing work, in down times like weekends, non-teaching-related days, summers. But that’s not how it works. It has to be part of your regular practice.

Reading

I’m in the midst of a couple of books this week. I took a break from the Man Booker International list and started Country by Michael Hughes, which I’ve had out via ILL for the last two months but haven’t managed to read. It goes back this weekend so it’s now or never. So far it’s really good. Hughes relocates the characters and storyline of The Iliad to 1990s Northern Ireland. We have characters named Achill, Pat, and Nellie. The writing is musical and recalls Homer while still being entirely modern and Irish. Cathy of 746Books has an excellent review here. It doesn’t come out in the US until October, but I hope it gets a good promotional push. And for you audiobook fans, look for it in that version.

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Weeknote 1

This is the first in what I hope is a regular Sunday series. I got the idea from Baldur Bjarnason, who got the idea from Amy Hupe and other people. A Weeknote is pretty much what it sounds like: a weekly report that is similar to journaling but more public. I don’t journal, and while I’m good at making to-do lists I’m very bad at doing the week-in-review or week-to-come lists which are also cornerstones of many productivity systems. I’ll use my weeknotes to talk about work, reading, and miscellaneous stuff.

Work

I have been working on revisions to a paper that needs to be sent out sooner rather than later. It’s our third round because every time you submit to a journal you need to tweak it for that particular audience. It’s been rejected twice, which is not unusual in my discipline, especially when the paper appeals across several audiences but isn’t necessarily core to any of them. This is the biggest tweak we’ve done since our initial post-conference-presentation revisions, and my part has taken me a while. But I was finally able to get myself into the headspace I needed (changing disciplinary audiences is harder than moving to a different audience within the same discipline), and I’m almost done. Which is good because I’m thoroughly sick of this paper and need it to go away.

I also had some teaching and tutorial work to do this week despite not being in residence. Recommendation letter, grad students, and recruitment do not go away just because I want to.

Reading

I finished a couple of books this week, both library reads that were about to expire. Both were excellent. I read Claudia Rankine’s The White Card, which is the script of a play she wrote that was produced last year in Boston. I have a review of it scheduled for tomorrow. I also finished Juan Gabrial Vasquez’s The Shape of the Ruins, which I read as part of the Man Booker International longlist. I’ve only read two plus parts of three others, but it is going to be hard to beat. Review to come.

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