Read Arounds

Pre-ordering books sounded like such a great idea to me at one point. Once, I was so excited about a book, I pre-ordered it the moment it was possible, because I had the money right then at that moment. At that time in my life, there was no telling what emergency might have sprung up by the book’s actual release date, leaving me without the ability to buy the book. I pre-ordered and forgot about it. Never realizing that Amazon didn’t actually charge me for my pre-order. It wasn’t until the date of the book release, and I was finally charged for the pre-ordered book. Yes, an emergency had come up, and while it didn’t lead to a complete disaster, there was no way I would have chosen to spend $25 on a book that particular week. The result of that experience is that even today, when I know more about the system and can better whether a random $25 charge, I am very hesitant to pre-order a book.

I know it helps out author’s and there are more good reasons to do it. Recently, I even had a good experience pre-ordering a book. In mid-February, I’d pre-ordered a book due out on March 2nd. Waking up that morning, I got my coffee and excitedly opened my Kindle and dove in. That book was everything I expected and more. It was so good that by Sunday I’d finished the book I started on Tuesday, and ordered a physical copy, because I wanted to write about the book, underline things, and explore footnotes and sources in a way that I just can’t really do on a Kindle. Don’t get me wrong, the Kindle is perfectly capable of doing what I need. I just do not like to do my research in that way, and when I am writing with a book, I really need to be able to flip through the pages to find that passage I underlined.

Yes, you’ll get the title and hear about that book eventually, but it is going to be a few posts. The message of the book is important, dramatically important, but in an unfortunate way would be undermined for many people if I dove right in without some context. The title alone would turn a good many people off, or perhaps spur you to “hate-read” the book, looking for places to disagree with and discredit the author. So, instead of writing a quick review for the book review series, I want to use this book to start a new series.
Earlier this year, Tressie McMillan Cottom (TMC) started her new site, Essaying. She launched it with an amazing essay on Dolly Parton. Whether or not you love or hate country music, that essay is worth signing up to read. Dolly is the center of the piece, the subject, but the essay is not about revealing new aspects of Parton. The essay is about identifying what Parton reveals about our culture and ourselves.

After the Dolly essay, TMC’s follow up essay provided insight into her writing process. The essay titled, “Sleep Around Before You Marry and Argument” identifies two primary ways to research for what she calls a “strong narrative essay,” reading for consensus about a topic and reading around a topic. TMC describes reading for consensus as, “straightforward.” It is what it sounds like reading everything you can about one particular subject. Whereas reading around a topic, involves a little more detective work, it requires you to ask questions about the subject to define it, and to discover why it is important. You can absolutely see this approach at work in TMC’s article on Dolly Parton, even before she breaks the process down for us.


While what I am envisioning is unlikely to end up as an essay, before diving into the content of the influential book I read in March I want to read around the topic a bit with you. In taking this approach, I want to start with the fundamentals, and take you on a bit of a tour of what I’ve been reading about this topic for about the last five years or so. In the course of this series, I’m certain I’ll dip back into one or two books I’ve already covered here, but I hope that I’ll do so with new purpose and insight. So, as I ease back into regular entries, I’ll be cycling through my short book reviews, miscellaneous updates, and this read around. Yes, I am still reading other things, and I’m a bit behind with my reviews and updates anyway. I am not sure how long this series will be maybe just two – three entries, maybe a bit more. I’ll work to get it started in a couple of weeks.

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