I am, once again, slogging my way through a thick academic book for the sake of a review. I used to slog through these books of my own accord, all the time. I’ve actually earned myself a reputation as the “academic reviewer” though I’m easily left in the dust by the staff of the Pomegranate, et. al. I never did finish my graduate degree, and it was a fluffy-old MFA I was working on anyway. ((Frankly, I don’t think I could get the letters of recommendation I need to go back and finish, and I’d want to switch to sociology if I did go back.))
After hundreds of thorough readings, long bouts of concern for my brain-organ as I retained nothing from those readings, and all too often trying to hide that I was bored to tears while one or another such expert set out to prove how smart he or she is I’ve finally achieved the confidence to say this out loud.
A lot of academic writing is just bad.
It’s the fallacy that if it’s fun/easy to read, it’s somehow not as smart. You can be perfectly intelligent and coherent. You can even express an idea or ten of your own around all those quotes demonstrating where your formative ideas came from. I daresay that once you’ve gotten past the hoops of higher education and the disapproving expressions of certain tenured (read: stagnant) professors that you might even have a little fun with your subject.
That’s right, I said it. Academic writing should still be fun.
But I tend to be a heretic in every crowd I run with, so if you’re going to use flamethrowers, be prepared to be met with asbestos lingerie.
I realize that much of the call for this in pagandom is a response to the pure drek churned out between the 70s up to now. Bad history and poor fact checking is what it is, but even so, I think it’s possible to write in an entertaining, informative way while preserving factual accuracy. Right now it seems like you’re either red state or blue state: you can write about personal experience, mistakes and how-tos or you can be Taken Very Seriously and write only about what other scholars have to say about the subject; if you’re lucky you might even throw in a page or two about something you dug out of the mud. ((I’m referring to archaeological digs, not celebrity gossip.))
My interest in the academic was fear and a need for approval much of my life seems to be about overcoming. Once upon a time I wanted to be Taken Very Seriously. But I’m starting to not care. After seeing the sheer crazy of some Very Serious people up close and personal, I’m backing away and trying to write more from my heart because therein truth and sanity lie. Maybe it’s my training in creative nonfiction – I think it’s more important that what I write be read than that it be important.