Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recent Reads

Bad Writing and Bad Thinking (Rachel Toor, Chronicle of Higher Education)

Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in. And it's a result of lazy thinking. Most of us know that we may not be writing as well as we could, or should. Many academics have told me that they suspect they are bad writers but don't know how to get better. They are often desperate for help. I tell them to reread Strunk and White, and to take a look at "Politics and the English Language." Yeah, yeah, they say, and get buried working toward the next submission deadline, prepping for the next class.

Everybody knew that eight hours a day was pretty much the limit for a guy swinging a hammer or a shovel; but those grey-flannel guys are just sitting at desks. We’re paying them more; shouldn’t we be able to ask more of them?

The short answer is: no. In fact, research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight. It sounds strange, but if you’re a knowledge worker, the truth of this may become clear if you think about your own typical work day. Odds are good that you probably turn out five or six good, productive hours of hard mental work; and then spend the other two or three hours on the job in meetings, answering e-mail, making phone calls, and so on. You can stay longer if your boss asks; but after six hours, all he's really got left is a butt in a chair. Your brain has already clocked out and gone home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In praise of the coffeehouse/bar

I love a good bar, and I love a good coffeehouse, but there's something to be said for those places that successfully combine the two. I bring this up because I'm writing from Caffe Medici (née Metro) where, at happy hour, the beer is cheaper than the coffee.

(And yes, I'm having both)

Monday, March 12, 2012

What does it mean that, after reading Caitlin Flanagan's Atlantic Monthly essay "The Autumn of Joan Didion," wherein she writes: "to really love Joan Didion--to have been blown over by thing like the smell of jasmine and the packing list she kept by her suitcase--you have to be female," I headed straight to the library to check out Slouching Towards Bethlehem?

Either A) I'm a girl or B) Flanagan is full of it with her gender essentialism. I'm leaning towards B.

But now I've read the book and, yes, it blew me over. Full-of-it-ness aside, Flanagan's essay nails the appeal (and the flaws) of reading Didion. The key to Slouching Towards Bethlehem is the short essay "On Keeping a Notebook," which contains the awesome line "I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." Didion is asking why she records strange details about strange people--the kinds of details that fill all the essays in the book--and she decides:
I imagine, in other words, that the notebook is about other people. But of course it is not. I have no real business with what one stranger said to another at the hat-check counter in Pavillon; in fact I suspect the line "That's my old football number" touched not my own imagination at all, but merely some memory of something once read, probably "The Eighty-Yard Run." Nor is my concern with a woman in a dirty crepe-de-Chine wrapper in a Wilmington bar. My stake is always, of course, in the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress. Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.
And I guess it's the point of keeping a blog, too.