Archive | June, 2014

Meta-Pile #6 Cleaning the Plate, 13 Weeks at a Time

17 Jun

Of late, I have found myself  bogged down among a plethora of books from two separate libraries, as well as volumes from my personal collections, while simultaneously pulled in 5 or 6 directions intellectually speaking (on top of  the rest of my life happenings). This has been the result of  half-hearted intentions on my part to prepare for  further graduate work in history, humanities, and philosophy.  Needless to say, this has even negatively affected my output of reviews: attempt too many tasks and nothing gets done.

10 June 2014

So I have decided to make a “clean sweep”, return all (or at least the very, vast majority) and start anew with 6 books filling the role of text-books to provide background exposure to the courses of instruction I desire to take. From there I shall proceed to actively read only 6 volumes at any one time from all combinations of sources: personal public, college, or private library collections, giving me 6 days of active reading and one day of rest.

17 June 2014

Yeah, okay that idea died an ignominious death. I did, however take the step of returning all my borrowed volumes from Berry College. I still plan to ultimately reduce my reading loads to 5 books a week at a time, one volume per anticipated blog (with allowances for this blog, which may require more volumes and produce more reviews, once I’ve built up enough entries to make regular posting worthwhile.

The Thirteen Week Reading Diet

In the meantime, I still plan to continue  my background reading toward the various M.A. degrees I am seeking, only this time I will give myself deadlines. I also  have a definite format in mind, based on the syllabi for the courses in the programs, with which to direct my reading, note-taking, and responses to the material (this is my way of making myself accountable to myself, by announcing what I am doing, that way people can bug me about my progress). The programs I plan to pursue maintain a 13 week course schedule; so to acclimatize myself to the reading and writing workload that these degrees entail I shall take a text or texts on a subject (for instance Mortimer J Adler’s How to Read a Book, or Will (and Ariel) Durant’s 14vol Story of Civilization), and spend  (up to) 13 weeks reading them.  For each week of reading, I will produce a review for the book, or  in some cases the section of book, I’m reading, and a final summary of my reading at the end of the 13 week cycle; only then will I  move on to the next assignment.

I will title each review “Select Reading Program” to keep track of my progress. (Incidentally, this process is also a good way to work my way through the ginormous backlog of reading material I have accumulated over the years.)


 

To give you a hint of how many directions my fertile mind has been stretched into, the following six areas have the most volumes within my personal library, and form the core of my intellectual pursuits. In fact, with the exception of Japanese Studies, I have found that all these areas comprise sections in a larger endeavor conceived of as a ‘natural history of the soul’ that engages philosophy, theology and science.

Biology and Chemistry

Humanities and Classics

Japanese Studies/Anime

Jewish Studies

Patristic Studies

Philosophy – Epistemology / Metaphysics / Ethics / Political Philosophy / Philosophy of Science (Biology)


 

Select Reading Plan, The Texts:

The books listed below represent the choice of books for my first four ‘courses’ of reading, what I have termed my “Select Reading Plan

1) Humanities

How to Read a Book : The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading Rev. and updated ed. / Mortimer J. Adler, and Charles Van Doren. New York: Simon and Schuster 1940. [1972].  xiii, 426 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

The Story of Civilization  / Will Durrant. NY: MJF Books. 1935. 1963. 14v.  v1 Our Oriental Heritage

History of Philosophy 9v. / Frederick Copleston.

2) Theology/Patristics/Jewish Studies

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 10v / Gerhard Kittel, editor. Geoffrey W Bromiley, translator. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.  1964.  [v1 Alpha – Gamma] [Fifth Printing 1972]

3) Anime/Japanese Studies

Culture Shock! Japan [third edition] / Rex Shelley. Portland, OR: Graphics Arts Center Publishing Company. 1993. 2000. 280 p. ; ill. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

 The Electric Geisha: Exploring Japan’s Popular Culture / Atsushi Ueda, ed. translated by Miriam Eguchi.  Tokyo:  Kodansha International. 1994.  260p.  Includes Glossary

The World of the Shining Prince : Court Life in Ancient Japan / Ivan Morris.   New York:  Vintage. 1964. Introduction copyright 1994.  xxvii,  336p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature  [2d ed] / J. Thomas Rimer. Tokyo: Kodansha International. 1999.  244p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

4) Science

Biology:  [bibliographic citation not yet available] *

Chemistry: [bibliographic citation not yet available] *

a variety of used college-level textbooks acquired from *cough* Goodwill Stores, as well as popular science magazines provide the basis for my background science readings


 

For simplicity, I’ll update this post with my current status each week

Week One:  June 22-June 28 2014

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Meta-Pile #5 The Gentle Art of Reviewing: The Five Forms

17 Jun

As part of my ongoing quest to perfect my reviewing style, expand my knowledge base, and make better analyses of what I read, thus improving the reviews I offer, (the perfect excuse to spend mindless hours browsing and searching Wikipedia, naturally,I have tried to identify just what it is I am doing when I craft a book review. To my surprise, I learned that book reviews are considered to be a form of literary criticism.

Oddly enough, it’s hard for me to think about myself engaging in literary criticism when I’m only writing  book reviews (especially when most of them are non-fiction), because for me  literary criticism involves  the production of articles of 10-30 pages or longer monographs that evaluate the literary quality of an author’s work, and I have no formal training in literature,  but that is exactly what I am doing. In researching styles and templates for reviewing books, I  have had cause to look back to my student days, and  the instructions from my undergraduate professors on critiques we wrote on assigned reading, and realized that I preferred writing reviews that looked like that, but then I wondered,  is a ‘critique’ the same as a ‘review? And what about those pesky terms “bibliographic essay” and “literature review?” How do they fit into the equation, And then,  to complicate matters further,  I like to read Publishers Weekly, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, Books & Culture, the book review sections of academic periodicals, and even user-generated reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.com, so you could say that I like formal book reviews over informal assessments.

In all I have come to identify five forms of book evaluations, some which consider only the “book-in-hand”, some which cover multiple books:  Book Review, Book Critique, Annotated Bibliographies, Bibliographic Essays and Literature Reviews,  all of them forms of directed literary criticism -even when the source material is non-fiction. To keep them straight in my mind, as well as to help you, the gentle reader, I decided to  air out my findings and so I present to you the Five Forms of Book Reviews:

  1. Book Review.  A book review gives an evaluation of a book (text or audio) that either provides a recommendation for or against reading it, (which seems silly to my mind, because simply hearing about a work is not the same as reading -or seeing, or hearing- the work for yourself), or that provides a (hopefully reasoned) judgement about the story or argument.  These can be academic and journal reviews, personal reviews, paid reviews, volunteer reviews, and professional reviews  According to Wikipedia, a book review is a “form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. … Reviewers, in literary periodicals, often use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work” (1) and notes that often, evaluations are based on personal taste, which translate into only those books get reviewed that a reader really likes or really hates. The majority of people, however understand, and use a book review as a way to respond to the experience of reading, and don’t always provide convincing reasons for this response, so instead of a reasoned opinion on an author or a boo, it becomes a statement of personal taste and we all know the maxim about taste: De gustibus, non est disputandum.
  2. Book Critique  A critique of a work covers more than just the bare bones of plot, theme, style.  It considers the author’s credentials (and thus his expertise or authority in writing), the strengths and weaknesses of the argument, as well as engaging with other reviews of the work to give a more balanced view. A proper critique should also provide some context about the work: when, where, and why it was written, and how -if at all- it should affect our judgement of the work. In some of the more august reviewing literature,  critiques and reviews blend together, but I like to make a distinction. I suppose this means my ‘reviews’ are actually critiques, but since ‘review’ is a little less pretentious-sounding than ‘critique’, I’ll stay with ‘review’ to describe my evaluations.
  3. Annotated Bibliography :  Annotated Bibliographies are perhaps the ‘easiest’ or simplest form of literary criticism that covers multiple titles. It’s really a listing of books, together with a one or two sentence description of its contents, or recommendation about it’s use. These are usually topically and/or chronologically oriented, and find a home within public libraries, undergraduate libraries, or even museums.
  4. Bibliographic Essay :  Bibliographic essays are usually stand alone works that include comments and evaluations of multiple works either by the same author, or on the same topic.  I will use them in two other ways:   to review an author’s entire corpus, or a majority portion thereof; or to provide readers wit a generalized reading plan on a topic of interest.
  5. Literature Review:  Literature Reviews cover the current state of research (or scholarship) on a problem of scientific or humanistic note, or within a particular  academic discipline.  They are designed to be more impartial than a bibliographic essay, and are usually found within a larger research context, such as scientific research papers, a master’s thesis or  doctoral dissertations.

These five forms make up the expected literary and intellectual content  of Piles and Philes, and to a lesser extent my other forthcoming blogs.

 


Sources:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Review  Accessed on 9 June 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique  Accessed on 9 June 2014