Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writing the Lost Generation

by Craig Monk

In Progress

I stumbled upon this book while reading background material on another book I haven't yet finished, Time was Soft There. Craig Monk who writes The Classroom Conservative blog, is a professor of literature at Lethbridge University, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

Writing the Lost Generation appears to be a collection of writings from those authors collectively known as the "lost generation." Since much has been written about these authors and their lives and writings, Prof. Monk is, I think, trying to let them speak for themselves.

I am having trouble with Prof Monk's writing style. I remember once having been taught that a good writer will strive to use very concise language. I have always remembered that and tried to follow that precept.

But in the context of reading Writing the Lost Generation, I'm altering my opinion. There is a point at which language becomes so full of meaning that the fullness detracts. In such writing, the reader must expend so much mental energy processing the information that the work loses it's draw.

While reading this book, I have to evaluate each word and then phrase and then clause and sentence, paragraph, etc, in order to keep the connections intact. The vocabulary and structure are not difficult in and of themselves. But Prof. Monk has mastered the idea of concise. Each word and even each component of the language is so full of meaning that there are no "breeze through" words to allow a reader processing time.

To put this a different way, I feel like a new reader. I have seen each of my kids go through the stage of having the phonetic ability to read words. But they cannot always remember the beginning of the sentence by the time they get tot the end. So they return to the beginning and have to sound out the words once again, and once again they can't get to the end of the sentence with the meaning intact.

So as an busy adult with lots of demands on my time, I may have to set this book aside simply because of time constraints.

Which brings me back to the precept of good writing being as concise as possible. If the writing style is very concise and the words are strung together in such a way as to say exactly what the author desires in as few words as possible, and yet people choose not to read the book because of the mental exercise involved, is it truly good writing?

If I decide to finish the book, I may write a more traditional review later. But I'm not really very optimistic about it.


  1. Hi,

    I want to thank you for your interest in my book. Essentially, Writing the Lost Generation argues that what we think of as "the Lost Generation" was actually defined by the group itself. That is kind of amazing. We don't usually get a say in crafting our own reputations; other people do that to us! Expatriate American writers wrote autobiography, in part, to shape what we think of them.

    In writing the book, I wanted to take a subject that is usually discussed in scholarly prose and make it more accessible. It is interesting that you find it too dense; some colleagues find it too informal! I'm not complaining: feedback has been positive. But I do sometimes wonder if, in writing something to appeal to two different audiences, no one is fully satisfied.

    One of the strategies of the approach, if this helps, is to take one theory of autobiographical criticism per chapter and filter my reading through that theory. Instead of a book about theory, my book uses theory, and I think that is more relevant. If you are having trouble getting into it, try Chapter Six. I'd be interested to know what you think about it.

    On the topic of dense, scholarly prose, I can share with you the recent title that I found most challenging. Now, I don't do this to pick on a colleague: the book below is a very good book, but it was intended only, I think, for an audience of scholarly readers. There is nothing wrong with that, and by writing mine in a different way I was only trying to appeal to a different audience. But you might find the contrast interesting.

    Craig Monk
    University of Lethbridge

  2. Prof. Monk,

    Thank you for your comment. I'm honored by your input.

    I was talking to my husband, Joe, about your book over breakfast this morning, as I was bemoaning my inability to easily read it. We talked about the different ways of being concise and clear; brief and wordy.

    Joe pointed me to the Postmodern Thesis Generator.
    We had fun reading some of those. If you've never looked at it, it generates a new thesis each time it loads.

    Let me assure you that your writing is nothing at all like that of the automatically generated works. :-)

    I am a mother of ten children, several of whom I homeschool. So the distraction level around here is quite high. I sat down to read your book this morning while having my first cup of coffee. It had to compete with one after another child awaking and wanting morning Mama snuggles; I settled a handful of disputes; I fended off those kids who wanted to jump the gun on breakfast. After my cup was empty, I had only read about six pages.

    So in all fairness, I am probably not typical of your audience.

  3. Oh, one more thing, Prof. Monk, I haven't given up on the book entirely. I will take a look at Chapter six either way. Thaks again for taking the time to comment.