This summer’s books on writing

Every summer, I read at least one book on teaching, one book on writing, and one book on higher education. In recent years, I’ve posted those lists, and sometimes even reviews, to this blog.

I won’t be reviewing the books at length this summer, simply because I have too many other writing deadlines and too much time traveling for conferences or vacation. I’ll still list the books, though, and perhaps with a few comments, starting with my reading on writing.

I’ve just finished Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics, by Joli Jensen, and Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write, by Helen Sword.

Both books were very good, and both depart from one-size-fits-all models of becoming a better writer.

If I had to choose just one of the two, it would be Jensen’s book, which I would recommend for every first-year faculty member partly for its acknowledgement that academia is not a great writing environment. Jensen urges her readers to recognize the many ways in which the rhythms and pressures of academic institutions can make writing difficult, but urges them to “write no matter what” and introduces them to quite a few tools and approaches that will help along the way. Without being overly prescriptive, Jensen’s book is still full of takeaways that can help writers the very next day – you get the sense that you can read a chapter, put the book down, and try out something new.

If I were starting a faculty development writing program, Sword’s book would probably be among my top five resources. Like Jensen, Sword urges her readers to acknowledge that they don’t have, and may never have, whatever they’ve come to think of as the perfect writing environment. Over time, though, they can build better and better writing practices by strengthening the behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional approaches to their writing. While Sword does have some suggestions that could be applied immediately, her emphasis is on the long game.

As for the other books I’ll read this summer, I’m decided on the higher ed stack:

1) Universities and Their Cities: Urban Higher Education in America

2) Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating the Virtues of Place

3) Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age

I’m undecided on the teaching book(s) for the summer. So if you have any recommendations, feel free to send them my way.

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