What I’m reading: May 2020

Between working from home and an upcoming sabbatical in the fall, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

So here’s what I’m reading for work and for fun and some other little stuff as well.

What I’m reading for work

Writer’s Digest author interviews: Believe it or not, I’m still in the process of writing that article about the role of research in creative writing. I had something that I thought was mostly done at the beginning of the year but the feedback I got from some trusted colleagues led me to believe there wasn’t quite enough there yet, so it was back to the drawing board. My first approach was to expand beyond the 10 popular creative writing books I’ve already read and find books on the topic that are more “academic” in nature but that got sidelined after the WFH order in my state cut off my access to physical library books (at least for now). So I’m taking a different route and reading through some of the author interviews in Writer’s Digest from the last few years. Writer’s Digest is still definitely more of a popular source than a scholarly one but it’s also a publication that’s pretty explicitly focused on the “how-to” aspects of creative writing, so I thought I might find some good information. I’ve read about ten interviews so far with the likes of James Patterson, Kristin Hannah, and George Saunders. Here and there, I’ve managed to find enough kernels related to my topic that I feel like this is a promising path. But in between those kernels, there’s a lot of waxing poetic about the genius of writers and the magic of what they do. It’s great that these writers love what they do so much and that they’re being interviewed by people who also love what they do. But frankly there are some days, in my current mindset, where I feel like I can’t even with these people.

Writing Genres: Amy J. Devitt’s book on genre theory is something I first picked up when I began dipping my toes in the waters that would eventually lead to me to my article “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study.”  I was lucky enough to find an electronic copy of the book in my library’s collection and I’ve been rereading it to help shore up some of the arguments I’m trying to make about “genres of research” in a new book project for ALA. The first chapter in this book was particularly helpful for me as someone who knows nothing about genre theory, helping me come to a deeper understanding of what genres even are, beyond classifications or labels for texts.

“Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy” by Michelle Holschuh Simmons: This is another source that I originally encountered in the course of writing “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study” that I’m revisiting now for my book project. Simmons has some really interesting things to say about how librarians are in a unique position to help students recognize and make sense of disciplinary differences because they have the necessary disciplinary expertise but aren’t as immersed in (and therefore blind to) conventions of discourse in a particular community as subject faculty. Reading this helped me realize that the idea that context is important to research isn’t really new to librarians. If it was, we wouldn’t need librarians with disciplinary expertise to meet the information needs of different discourse communities—we could all just be generalists. But it’s interesting to me how as academic librarians we tend to talk about “genre” in terms of “discipline.” The genres I’ve been thinking about have more to do with situation: professional, personal, creative, etc.

“Send Them a Dead Fish: How Not to Handle Rejection”:  I first found this blog post by Chuck Wendig a few years ago, after an article I submitted received a particularly harsh rejection and I was nursing my wounded pride. Upon reading it, I immediately printed out the example letter he provides in Option 3 and hung it on the wall in my office (one where it’s not easily visible to others due to some…objectionable language). I had reason to revisit this post recently (…after receiving another rejection) and thought it was worth sharing for anyone who might need a good laugh (balanced as usual with some very good advice from Wendig).

 

What I’m reading for fun

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb: Oddly, social distancing has made me more social rather than less because I don’t have to actually go anywhere to talk to people anymore. Which is to say, now that all of those Meetup groups I joined forever ago have gone virtual, I’m actually going to some of their meetings, including one for a local book club. For May, the club had a “Bring Your Own Book” meeting where everyone read a nonfiction book of their choice and then talked about it. I chose this one because back when I could read The Atlantic without having an existential crisis, I enjoyed Lori Gottlieb’s “Dear Therapist” column. As someone who has been in and out of therapy for longer than I care to admit, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is both a great and terrible read. It’s great because it pulls back the curtain a little bit on how therapy works and why it works that way. It’s terrible because now whenever I talk to my own therapist, I’m probably going to be thinking too much about what I read here. Still, I really enjoyed the voice the book was written in and even though it was published long before the current crisis, a lot of the themes relate to what it feels like to have a future you thought was a sure thing pulled out from underneath you suddenly and unexpectedly, which has been useful.

 

What I’m watching for fun

Community: Community is a sitcom I’ve heard a lot about over the years but never tried to get into until I happened upon it on Netflix a few weeks ago while searching for something fun and relatively easy to watch now that I’m almost done with New Girl. I’m about halfway through the show’s first season and I’m still warming up to it but what I find fascinating about it is the fact that so much of it takes place inside the library on a community college campus. I mean, all you see of the library is a strangely large group study room and a hallway with a single bookshelf. But still. Behind the characters in many of the study room scenes is a large white board with various library-related announcements and messages, some of which are jokes in and of themselves and others which are weirdly realistic. Very enjoyable.

 

What I’m listening to for fun

Race Chasers with Alaska & Willam: When the first six seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race became available on Hulu last fall after some time away from streaming, I burned through them pretty quickly. My favorite season by far is the third and when the shit started to hit the fan with this whole coronavirus thing, I decided to rewatch just that season mostly so I could soothe myself by once again staring at Raja’s pretty, pretty face (both in and out of drag). Somewhere in the midst of my rewatch, I stumbled on this podcast by former Drag Race contestants Alaska and Willam. In between reviews of current episodes, the hosts also do commentaries and recaps of past seasons. So as I worked my way through the third season, I supplemented my rewatch with the relevant episodes of their show. The podcast is…meandering at times and maybe in need of better editing to excise or at least shorten the irrelevant parts (though if they did that, the listener would be robbed of the sometimes very funny interactions between Alaska, Willam, and Dipper, their producer, who frequently has to intervene when they get off track). That said, I really enjoyed both the behind-the-scenes knowledge/gossip the two sometimes share (…apparently Alexis Matteo lied about having a boyfriend in the military—gasp!) as well as their technical expertise about drag itself, which as a non-expert helped me appreciate the art of what I was seeing on screen even more than I already did. Worth checking out if you’re a fan of these two and/or a fan of the show.

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