So I am reading a bunch of scholarly books and articles for my final paper for my realism class. Of course. Since the requirement is one essay, I found two book-length works that seemed relevant (the paper is on The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures; more about it in a later post) and am also looking for essays and chapters of other books that I already have. It’s not that I go above and beyond, it’s that I have no conception of proper scope for school papers and I want to know everything about everything.
Anyway. The book I read first is The Distant Mirror: Reflections on Young Adult Historical Fiction (Scarecrow Studies in Young Adult Literature) by Joanne Brown and Nancy St. Clair. It’s really useful, because before I can write what my paper is actually supposed to be about, I have to write in some way that proves that historical fiction is realism, so I thought this would give me some good background theory.
The book does make some totally valid and useful observations on the development of historical fiction and how discussions about it and its appeal are always revolving around issues of accuracy and what that even means and also around things like race, class and gender (which is almost silly to mention because everything ever in the entire world revolves around at least one of those things). I am finding it an interesting read, even if it’s ultimately too specific in its readings to be helpful in the general sense I was hoping for. But there is a huge problem with the text that is making me crazy, and it is forcing me to acknowledge that academic scholars, though beyond me in years and degrees, are really no better than anyone else, and in some ways, I am better than they are at things, like typing. And caring about things and people.
Have you read a book before? And then written an essay about it in which you cited things? You then looked at the cover of the book, glanced at the author, and then typed the author’s name, no? And you probably got it right, either because you’re a person who can look at things quickly and know how to write them or because you painstakingly typed it out. Apparently Brown and St. Clair, their copyeditors, and their series editor, Patty Campbell, all find such things beneath them. They got the names of characters and authors wrong so many times it was unbelievable.
It’s also just rude. How dare you take the time to consider someone’s words and then not even do them the respect of crediting them properly (consistent refusal to spell Cornel West’s name with one L; referring to Carolyn Meyers and Caroline Meyers instead of the one person she is, Carolyn Meyer; calling a character both Susanna and Susannah in sentences that follow each other, saying D.W. Griffin instead of Griffith; Sally Hemming instead of Hemmings – lots of these are so famous it’s like how can you possibly have any other idea of what they are except the correct thing, really)? How dare you have such poor visual and writing skills to not be good at this automatically, like I and I’m assuming hundreds of thousands of other people are, especially when you are clearly people who are used to such things as writing about literature and citing it? A typo here and there is forgivable, but this book absolutely runs rampant with them to the point that they are clearly not typos, they are lazy, dismissive, unconscious signals that the authors don’t care very much for ideas that are not their own.
Not only is that a problem because it’s mean, it’s also problematic when you consider that the entire text is about the importance (and tenuous nature) of accuracy and representation. It worries me as a budding scholar that I can already identify so many problems with crit that I am supposed to be using to strengthen my own work, especially when I am so new to the field that I cannot automatically write off a publisher as low quality or a scholar as a hack the way seasoned academics can, just based on their time and experience in the field. It worries me that even though I am quite capable of reading something, taking useful things from it, and leaving things I am unsure of, I might be giving this book more credit than it deserves, thus lowering the quality of my paper (and the marketability of it and myself as a serious scholar).
Obviously, I will just use the book to the best of my ability and draw from it carefully and minimally. But I don’t know how to reconcile this, and I also worry because I am planning on reading an earlier text by the same authors. They just happen to write on exactly the subjects I am interested in for this paper, and their work was available to me at the right time, and if I keep doing searches for more and more sources, I will do what I always do, which is amass a great collection of ideas and thoughts but not have time to apply them all and write a decent, cohesive, and cogent paper.
Scholarship is hard, man. I worship scholars, and I don’t like knowing that they’re not perfect and that they may in fact suck sometimes.