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Alex Beam Forces H&E Hiatus

December 3, 2008

Well, not really. Alex Beam isn’t forcing me, of course, to do anything. But his well-received new book, A Great Idea At The Time: The Rise, Fall, And Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, has lit a fire under me.

After many worthy post-dissertation/PhD “distractions”—including a new son, many conference presentations, several articles, hundreds of blog posts (over 630 not counting USIH pieces), and a new job (including one year-long academic job hunt)—it’s time for me to get focused and tell my story about Mortimer Adler and the history of the great books idea.

Getting on task means giving up some things. What I’ve discovered over the past year is that, for me, this involves managing my energy as much as my time. I’ve probably actually had the time over the past two plus years since finishing my dissertation to turn it into an acceptable book manuscript. But I know for sure I haven’t managed my energy well enough to complete the task.

Academic writing is not something that comes easy at this period in my life. I can’t decide whether this is an internal or external issue. I can write blog posts with ease, and even some kinds of academic articles without a herculean effort. But getting this first book out is going to require my getting over a hump called “activation energy” by chemists. I can’t see my personal kilojoules-per-mole/reaction path graph, but I suspect it contains a higher than average spike early on my “book creation path” axis.

[Courtesy: here]

Anyway, here are the things I’ll give up to get from A to B:

1. H&E postings until either my manuscript is completed or a set time of 13 months has passed, returning January 1, 2010. Hopefully I’ll return sooner, but this gives me some leeway. By January 2010, I should be in a groove, having completed both significant writing chunks and/or any new research required. I will still post things periodically at USIH.

2. Facebook. Wow, what a time suck.

3. Sports. This means not following the NFL (Chiefs and Bears), NBA (Bulls), College Basketball and Football (Mizzou), and baseball (the Royals). My one exception will come in baseball: the Cubs. I have to keep up with a retooled Cubs team that is still likely to break my heart. Plus, following the Cubs is a family activity: the rest of my sports “commitments” are solo.

4. History blog following, with a few news-oriented exceptions (i.e. AHA weblog). I’ll check in occasionally, but I don’t want to commit myself to a regular schedule.

5. Keeping up with politics. Thank goodness the election is over, but I’ve got to put the brakes on things like cabinet appointments, etc. I’m going to have to trust the Obama administration to keep things smooth on his center-left path. And my wife will inform me of the important details on major events.

These are the things that partially drain, in addition to the day job, my daily and weekly allotment of computer energy (sometimes called “computer eyes” around my house). Most all of that energy will be shifted to the book—excepting occasional USIH posts since my project involves intersecting topics. Writing, as long as it’s on topic, breeds more writing. As such a periodic USIH post should help.

That’s it for now. If the program is successful, hopefully I’ll return before January 2010. Farewell! – TL

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9 Comments
  1. Argumentum ad Hominem

    The subtitle should have read, Every Negative Fact and Innuendo I Could Dredge Up

    Although he was not particularly unkind to me in the book, I found virtually every page to be a smart-alecky and snide diatribe of the worst order against the Great Books, Adler, Hutchins, et al. Plus the book is replete with errors of commission and omission.

    As an effective antidote, I prescribe Robert Hutchins' pithy essay, The Great Conversation.

    If the Great Books crusade is as bleak as Beam purports, then happily, not many will read his invective book.

    Max Weismann,
    President and co-founder with Mortimer Adler, Center for the Study of The Great Ideas
    Chairman, The Great Books Academy

  2. Dear Max,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I don't feel strongly negative about Alex's book. It's a different story than I would tell, for sure. I can understand how he gets his impressions of certain folks. But there are more sides to the story, and I intend on getting at some of those other angles in my work.

    – TL

  3. TL's Student permalink

    I have already given up #2 and #3; I gave up Facebook a year ago and, regarding sports, I only follow the Chicago Cubs now. Good luck!

  4. TLS,

    Thanks for the encouragement. But “the Cubs” are a major time commitment by itself. Smokes.

    And it's one thing for me to ~say~ that I'm giving up these things, and another to do them. We are a species of habit—sadly. But, onward ho! The book ~must~ be done.

    – TL

  5. Tim,
    You will be missed, but priorities are a bitch. I wish you the best and will look forward to your return and your book.

    Thanks for all your past encouragement.
    Sharon (from Chicago History)

  6. In my view, one cannot be culturally/historically literate, without reading and understanding the great conversation found in the great books of Western civilization. I say Western, because there is no Eastern conversation (alas, to date)

    Me thinks, Mr. Beam with his snobbish east coast schooling, does not understand this–he dotes on personalities which are irrelevant to the task at hand.

  7. Why not do something really crazy and write your book in Omeka? Then your online activity would not have to cease and you could build an audience for your forthcoming book.

  8. funny, I gave up most of that stuff (politics aside) years ago just to finish my dissertation. No wonder academics feel a sharp divide between themselves and the rest of the culture.

  9. Sterling: I don't know how to do it in Omeka. I thought Omeka was for online exhibits and picture-type endeavors?

    CM: Understood. It's not like I've been obsessed with those things, it's just that I'm losing time for hobbies and mediocre indulgences. I don't think I can give up Facebook, however, because it's THE means for keeping up with a select few. It's sad but true.

    – TL

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