Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

How to Write a Lot – Paul Silvia


First published in 2007.

This book comes up a lot, in various fora for academics looking for ways to improve their productivity.  A few months ago I decided to buy it. First observation: this is a short book. You can read through it in one sitting (and that sitting need not be very long). I must say that I was little put off when I received it – is this it? I thought. There is that to be said about ordering books online – you can browse through some of the contents (“Look Inside!” on Amazon) but you can’t get a feel for the size, shape and feel of a book. How bulky or fat it is, how thin the pages are, how stiff the spine is or how tight the writing. So when this book arrived, thin, with thick pages and sparse writing, I was a tad put off. But I did want to review it for the blog, so I sat myself down to read it anyway (astonishing how we academics can sit ourselves down to read anything, no matter how boring). But boring this book is not.

Written by an academic psychologist, this book blends straightforward and practical advice, with touches of humor laced throughout which makes it fun to read. Although primarily targeted at writers who do psychological research, a big chunk of Paul Silvia’s tell-it-like-it-is advice can be directed at academic writers in general. Here are a few of my own takeaways: Read more

The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton


Some books, they say, can change lives.

They inspire, they urge, they provoke, they push, they rescue, they save. Sometimes, they open a way. Other times, they help close a chapter. “The New New Journalism” by Robert Boynton did not change my life but it has transformed my views on what kind of research I should be doing, how I should be writing and most importantly, on why it was -and still is- so vital for me.

I have come across this book while browsing overflowing dusty shelves in the famous “Strand” bookshop in New York City. I was a few blocks away from New York University where Robert Boynton teaches journalism and is the Director for the Literary Reportage concentration. I had been interested in journalism for ages, since those snowy days spent reading John Reed’s autobiography in a Montreal café. I had started reading and collecting books on journalism from then on and as these books gradually piled up on my bookshelves, I developed a strong affection for them (the actual material objects that had travelled thousands of miles with me) and for their authors who made me realize how much I wanted to write and how hard I knew it to be. Read more

On Writing – Stephen King

Stephen King

First published in 2000.

Perhaps I should start by saying that I am not a Stephen King fan. But this isn’t the case because I don’t like Stephen King’s writing. Quite the contrary. The reason I’m not a fan is because I’m chicken. Let’s face it, Stephen King isn’t considered to be one of the best ever writers of horror, suspense and fantasy for nothing. And I’m simply too chicken to read most of it.  As it happens, the only book of his that I’ve read is Pet Sematary. And despite being terrified throughout, I couldn’t bring myself to put the damn thing down. I stayed terrified for over six months after that – becoming instantly frantic anytime I was alone in our apartment and heard some strange noise. Never mind that I was living in Paris at the time, in a fifth floor apartment which couldn’t be further away from Steve’s Micmac burial ground in the backwoods of Maine. It was as if I’d find his creepy two-year-old zombie kid lurking in one of my closets, waiting to get me, scalpel in hand. You’ve got to be one hell of good writer to be able do that, in a book. This isn’t campfire story-telling, where you play on suspense with tone, and pace, and ambiance or a movie, where visuals and sound go such a long way in making everything seem real. It’s a book for Pete sakes. The only thing that’s holding you, mesmerized, onto the page, are Stephen King’s written words. We are light years from academic writing, where the only grip the stuff we write has on people is fear of not getting tenure. Where the hard part is picking the stuff up, not putting it down. (Ok, I may be exaggerating slightly, but let’s be honest, it’s only because we are truly passionate about our subjects that we can will ourselves to read a large chunk of the journal articles that are out there. The stuff we read and write can be pretty darn dry.)

So is there anything we academics can learn from Stephen King that might help us improve our writing? Given that his book pops up regularly on top-ten lists of “the best books on writing ever,” and several people in my immediate circle suggested it was a “must read”, I decided to dive in.
Read more