The Liturgy of the Book

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

When Tenured Radical wrote a blog post about the “Grafton Challenge” this summer, I was both impressed and completely intimidated by the blistering pace at which Tony Grafton writes:  3,500 words a day!  Amazing.  Then when she followed up to report that Matthew Gutterl had drafted a book this summer by. . . sitting down to write every day and cutting out distractions like blogging!. . . I thought to myself:  how much longer do I really want to live with the book I’m writing now, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright?  Isn’t it time to move on?

So, I decided to finish a rough draft of my book this fall, with Christmas day as my drop-dead date.  When I finished the second draft of Abraham in Arms eight years ago, the only time I had to myself that was completely free of familial distractions or responsibilities was from 4-6 a.m.  So, several days a week I now get out of bed at 4 a.m. and try to write for two hours.  It’s not as difficult as you’d think.  Caffeine helps, as does a shockingly early bedtime the night before.  I’ve had a cold this week, and the high-test antihistamines I’m on also give me a kick.  (I think it’s the stuff they cook meth out of, so no wonder.)  I prefer the silence of the tomb when I work, and my brain is freshest first thing in the morning, so 4-6 a.m. it is.

(I was reviewing a chapter I had already drafted, and I re-read something I had written last summer about how the Ursuline nuns I’m writing about would rise at 4 a.m. to begin their day.  Coincidence?  Continue reading

Ask a Slave!

A graduate student of mine alerted me to this brilliant YouTube series of short videos, Ask a Slave. (Don’t we get all the best ideas from our students? I sure do!) Ask a Slave, directed by comedian Jordan Black, is based on the real-life experiences of actress Azie Mira Dungey who worked as a “living history character” to portray an enslaved maid at Mount Vernon.

One of the things I think Lizzie May does very well is to suggest the ways in which white women were just as complicit in the creation and maintenance of slavery as white men. Continue reading

Finally, some reasoned analysis of the so-called “high cost of higher ed”

Grab a chair and a cup, and let's talk!

Grab a chair and a cup, and let’s talk!

This strikes me as a sensible intervention into the typically un-nuanced conversation about the price of a four-year undergraduate degree.  And what’d’ya know–it’s from a panel of admissions officers, the kind of people whose job it is to know their target audience and to recruit and retain students?

Steven Graff, senior director of admissions and enrollment services at the College Board, said it’s become “knee jerk” to say college is too costly.

“But,” he said, “what I think we have to do is move away from the monolithic assumption that the word ‘college,’ the word ‘price,’ the word ‘cost’ are the same for every student, every institution, for every situation we are dealing with.”

Instead, the panel argued, college prices and costs require a more nuanced view than the one offered by most in the media or perhaps even by President Obama, who last month went on a campaign-style tour to tout his plan to curb college costs.

Graff and two consultants from the enrollment management firm Art & Science Group argued that there is a significant difference between college cost and college price, in part because of financial aid, and there are also rather significant differences among prices at different kinds of institutions.

Sanity, at last.  But how’s that? Continue reading

An almost unbloglich level of Franzenfreude

Check it out:  Amanda Hess’s analysis of Jonathan Franzen’s recent essay in which he screams at the children to get off his lawn, and to take their Twitter-machines with them:

Franzen blames the Internet for eradicating “the quiet and permanence of the printed word,” which “assured some kind of quality control,” in favor of an apocalyptic hellscape punctuated by “bogus” Amazon reviews and “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion.” Back in Franzen’s day, “TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments.” He goes on: “It wasn’t necessarily a better world (we had bomb shelters and segregated swimming pools), but it was the only world I knew to try to find my place in as a writer.”

Wow.  Not too many white people can openly express their nostalgia for segregation or apartheid and get their 6,500 word essays published in The Guardian!  But that’s not all:  apparently, guys like Franzen really are victims!  Of something.  The important thing to know is that Jonathan Franzen can no longer “find his place. . . as a writer” in our modern dystopia.  But the pre-internet world doesn’t seem all that awesome in his telling:

And then there is the tale of the German chick, told to pinpoint exactly the moment Franzen became an angry person. Continue reading

After the flood



Thanks to everyone who has written, called, or texted me to ask if we’re doing OK here at the ranch. It sure was rainy last week–I can’t remember a time since I moved to Colorado that it rained for six days straight, but that’s what happened starting last Tuesday. People have made comparisons to the epic flood of the Big Thompson River in 1976. Fortunately, this flood has been much less deadly.

There have been some pretty scary pictures of what’s happening in some parts of the Front Range, but so far as I can tell, if you don’t live in the wildlife-urban interface and/or a canyon, and you don’t live in a mobile home, you’re probably OK. Sadly, the people with the fewest resources were disproportionately affected here on the plains.

The one exception to my rule about living in cities/not in mobile home parks to stay safe appears to be Longmont, Colorado, which is right on the St. Vrain River and which is apparently still really bad. The western side of Loveland, Colorado all the way up to Estes Park–through the Big Thompson canyon–has made for some dramatic news footage, I am sure. Fort Collins, where Baa Ram U. is located, seems to be getting back to normal after the Cache la Poudre River left its banks Friday–some of the lowlands near I-25 look a little floody, but not too bad. Most of the scary photos and videos you’ve seen recently that might have been labeled Greeley are probably Evans, Colorado, which is right on the South Platte River. We live right between the “two rivers” in Greeley, so we are high, dry, and lucky. Continue reading