Joseph A. Dane examines the history of the books we now know as "Chaucer’s"—a history that includes printers and publishers, editors, antiquarians, librarians, and book collectors. The Chaucer at issue here is not a medieval poet, securely bound within his fourteenth-century context, but rather the product of the often chaotic history of the physical books that have been produced and marketed in his name.
This history involves a series of myths about Chaucer—a reformist Chaucer, a realist Chaucer, a political and critical Chaucer who seems oddly like us. It also involves more self-reflective critical myths—the conveniently coherent editorial tradition that leads progressively to modern editions of Chaucer. Dane argues that the material background of these myths remains irreducibly and often amusingly recalcitrant. The great Chaucer monuments—his editions, his book, and even his tomb—defy our efforts to stabilize them with our critical descriptions and transcriptions.
Part I concentrates on the production and reception of the Chaucerian book from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, a period dominated by the folio "Complete Works" and a period that culminates in what Chaucerians have consistently (if uncritically) defined as the worst Chaucer edition of 1721. Part II considers the increasing ambivalence of modern editors and critics in relation to the book of Chaucer, and the various attempts of modern scholars to provide alternative sources of authority.
Who Wrote the Book of Love?
Lee Siegel University of Chicago Press, 2005 Library of Congress PS3569.I377W48 2005 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Who Wrote the Book of Love? is acclaimed novelist Lee Siegel's comedic chronicle of the sexual life of an American boy in Southern California in the 1950s. Starting at the beginning of the decade, in the year that Stalin announced that the Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb, the book opens with a child's first memory of himself. Closing at the end of the decade, when Pat Boone's guide to dating, 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty, topped the bestseller list, the book culminates just moments before the boy experiences for the first time what he had learned from a book read to him by his mother was called "coitus or sexual intercourse or sometimes, less formally, just making love." Between the initial overwhelmingly erotic recollection and the final climactic moment, all is sex—beguiling and intractable, naughty and sweet. Who Wrote the Book of Love? is about the subversive sexual imaginations of children. And, as such, it is about the origins of love.
Vignettes from the author's childhood provide the material for the construction of what is at once comic fiction, imaginative historical reportage, and an ironically nostalgic confession. The book evokes the tone and tempo of a decade during which America was blatantly happy, wholesome, and confident, and yet, at the same time, deeply fearful of communism and nuclear holocaust. Siegel recounts both the cheer and the paranoia of the period and the ways in which those sentiments informed wondering about sex and falling in love.
"Part of my plan," Mark Twain wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, "has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked." With the same motive, Lee Siegel has written what Twain might have composed had he been Jewish, raised in Beverly Hills in the 1950s, and joyously obsessed with sex and love.
Social scientists, whether earnest graduate students or tenured faculty members, clearly know the rules that govern good writing. But for some reason they choose to ignore those guidelines and churn out turgid, pompous, and obscure prose. Distinguished sociologist Howard S. Becker, true to his calling, looks for an explanation for this bizarre behavior not in the psyches of his colleagues but in the structure of his profession. In this highly personal and inspirational volume he considers academic writing as a social activity.
Both the means and the reasons for writing a thesis or article or book are socially structured by the organization of graduate study, the requirements for publication, and the conditions for promotion, and the pressures arising from these situations create the writing style so often lampooned and lamented. Drawing on his thirty-five years' experience as a researcher, writer, and teacher, Becker exposes the foibles of the academic profession to the light of sociological analysis and gentle humor. He also offers eminently useful suggestions for ways to make social scientists better and more productive writers. Among the topics discussed are how to overcome the paralyzing fears of chaos and ridicule that lead to writer's block; how to rewrite and revise, again and again; how to adopt a persona compatible with lucid prose; how to deal with that academic bugaboo, "the literature." There is also a chapter by Pamela Richards on the personal and professional risks involved in scholarly writing.
In recounting his own trials and errors Becker offers his readers not a model to be slavishly imitated but an example to inspire. Throughout, his focus is on the elusive work habits that contribute to good writing, not the more easily learned rules of grammar and punctuation. Although his examples are drawn from sociological literature, his conclusions apply to all fields of social science, and indeed to all areas of scholarly endeavor. The message is clear: you don't have to write like a social scientist to be one.
Students and researchers all write under pressure, and those pressures—most lamentably, the desire to impress your audience rather than to communicate with them—often lead to pretentious prose, academic posturing, and, not infrequently, writer’s block.
Sociologist Howard S. Becker has written the classic book on how to conquer these pressures and simply write. First published nearly twenty years ago, Writing for Social Scientists has become a lifesaver for writers in all fields, from beginning students to published authors. Becker’s message is clear: in order to learn how to write, take a deep breath and then begin writing. Revise. Repeat.
It is not always an easy process, as Becker wryly relates. Decades of teaching, researching, and writing have given him plenty of material, and Becker neatly exposes the foibles of academia and its “publish or perish” atmosphere. Wordiness, the passive voice, inserting a “the way in which” when a simple “how” will do—all these mechanisms are a part of the social structure of academic writing. By shrugging off such impediments—or at the very least, putting them aside for a few hours—we can reform our work habits and start writing lucidly without worrying about grades, peer approval, or the “literature.”
In this new edition, Becker takes account of major changes in the computer tools available to writers today, and also substantially expands his analysis of how academic institutions create problems for them. As competition in academia grows increasingly heated, Writing for Social Scientists will provide solace to a new generation of frazzled, would-be writers.
For more than thirty years, Writing for Social Scientists has been a lifeboat for writers in all fields, from beginning students to published authors. It starts with a powerful reassurance: Academic writing is stressful, and even accomplished scholars like sociologist Howard S. Becker struggle with it. And it provides a clear solution: In order to learn how to write, take a deep breath and then begin writing. Revise. Repeat.
This is not a book about sociological writing. Instead, Becker applies his sociologist’s eye to some of the common problems all academic writers face, including trying to get it right the first time, failing, and therefore not writing at all; getting caught up in the trappings of “proper” academic writing; writing to impress rather than communicate with readers; and struggling with the when and how of citations. He then offers concrete advice, based on his own experiences and those of his students and colleagues, for overcoming these obstacles and gaining confidence as a writer.
While the underlying challenges of writing have remained the same since the book first appeared, the context in which academic writers work has changed dramatically, thanks to rapid changes in technology and ever greater institutional pressures. This new edition has been updated throughout to reflect these changes, offering a new generation of scholars and students encouragement to write about society or any other scholarly topic clearly and persuasively.
As Becker writes in the new preface, “Nothing prepared me for the steady stream of mail from readers who found the book helpful. Not just helpful. Several told me the book had saved their lives; less a testimony to the book as therapy than a reflection of the seriousness of the trouble writing failure could get people into.” As academics are being called on to write more often, in more formats, the experienced, rational advice in Writing for Social Scientists will be an important resource for any writer’s shelf.