For two of my classes, a significant part of my grade comes from one of two things: three short book reviews or one long research paper. The reviews have to be finished in stages; the first one, for each class, is due this Friday. And I don't feel up to it. It's too intimidating--to critique professional writers, for the professor of an upper-level history class? I'm scared to try. What if I turn it in and it's terrible and my professor, who I'm really starting to like a lot, thinks I'm an idiot?

I've got to stop this. Every time I feel like I'm going to fall on my face with a writing assignment, I do fine. Usually I bash something out the night before, fret that it sucks, and end up getting a great grade. So I need to just shut up, and do it.

I also still need to put together a freelance proposal for Internet marketing for my friend's business. The company did some restructuring and things were on hold for a while, so I wasn't even sure if I should do it; but now things are back on, and I need to get off my butt and do it.

But first, I need to do this paper. Eeek. It doesn't help that what I have to review is the world's most boring book, which is written in such a horrid and confusing style that honestly half the class didn't even understand it.

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2 Responses
  1. Steven Says:

    This comes much to late for it to be any help, but I thought you might be interested in a comment by a history professor. Don't worry that a bad paper might make your professor think you're stupid; the worst thing that could happen is that he/she thinks you can't write. And if you're getting good grades otherwise, that won't be a problem. The good thing about having several assignments is that you can do badly on the first one, find out what you did wrong, and then do well on the rest of them. If you don't understand the feedback you get, the best thing would be to try to see the professor outside of class. Are the professor's office hours possible for you to attend? If not, try to make an appointment for sometime convenient to both of you. I can't tell you how many students I'd *love* to talk to outside of class--they're talented but they need some individualized help--but they never come in. And if I've given them a bad grade, they assume I think they're stupid, which makes them afraid of me.

    For writing a book review, keep in mind that most books are really bad. Even those by professional historians, even those published by major presses. Just being boring isn't evidence of being bad. What you need to look for is what the author's argument is and then to assess how successfully he/she has made it. What are the sources? Do they seem to be interpreted well? It requires paying attention to the footnotes, which makes it a slow process. But it also can make reading more interesting. One thing that might help would be to look at book reviews published in scholarly journals. American Historical Review is a general journal that might be helpful (or Reviews in History, which is online), but you might have a look at something in the sub-field of history that you're studying.

    I hope this is helpful rather than officious. I really like your writing, for whatever that's worth.


  2. purplegirl Says:

    Thanks, Steven. I ended up doing quite well--which is usually what happens, I just get all worked up over things. You're right that being boring doesn't make it a bad book. It was more his writing style--and the fact that he's a Princeton professor and it was a collection of his lectures from the seventies. It was just a hard read.