Friday Reading Roundup

By Mary Hendrie — February 21, 2014 2 min read
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As the week winds down, dive into some of the recent literary discussions you might have missed.

The Role of Academics in Public Discourse

On Sunday, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof sparked a conversation on the role of professors in the public sphere in an op-ed lamenting the “turgid prose” and “meaningless gibberish” in academic writing. This inaccessible presentation, Kristof argues, diminishes the popular influence and dissemination of important academic knowledge.

In response to Kristof, Joshua Rothman “Why Is Academic Writing so Academic?” continues this examination of the “knotty and strange, remote and insular, technical and specialized, forbidding and clannish” nature of academic writing, on the New Yorker‘s book blog PageTurner. The article considers the tension between the public’s perception of the academic community and its own internal culture, which Rothman sees as having become too esoteric to exert serious influence in public discourse.

This discussion on the dismissal of abstruse academic writing in the public sphere has implications for the education field, as academics seek to weigh in on policy. “Seek Out Practicing Educators, Not Scholars, on Policy Issues,” a school principal’s recent Education Week letter to the editor, encapsulates the tension between education policy academics with on-the-ground educators.

Engaging Younger Readers

Bloggers this week are again devoting some proverbial ink to the perennial question of how to inspire children to love reading. Teacher-blogger Larry Ferlazzo has kicked off a three-part series devoted to the question on his eponymous Education Week Q. & A. blog (Part I and part II now up). So far, Donalyn Miller, Mark Barnes, Christopher Lehman, Kristi Mraz, Marjorie Martinelli, Kathy Barclay, and Cindi Rigsbee have all offered their advice for creating life-long readers out of young students.

High school English teacher Starr Sackstein offers her personal insight on the matter in a guest post on Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground opinion blog, suggesting that teachers should grant their students greater choice in reading material. (The blog is hosted by

Gender in the Publishing Community

The enormous success of YA author John Green (The Fault Is in Our Stars, Paper Towns) has recently generated widespread social-media discussion on the intersection of gender and publishing. A Daily Dot summary of the discussion draws on an assortment of blog and social-media sources to examine why male authors such as Green are treated with greater critical gravitas than their female counterparts. As the article notes, Green himself has exerted his considerable social-media reach to denounce the male-centric biases of the publishing world.

Offering some unconnected but nonetheless relevant context on the “public voice of women,” Cambridge don and classicist Mary Beard gave a widely-circulated lecture last Friday on the historic roots of disproportionate criticism of women in the public realm. The publishing house Melville House offers a (mercifully non-esoteric!) summary of the lecture on their website.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.