By Guest Columnist Sophia Basaldua-Sun
Today I’m thrilled to be publishing my review of Every Day I Write the Book by scholar and creative writer Amitava Kumar. Everyday I Write the Book is a text about academic writing for academic writers, which isn’t to say you need to be an academic writer to read the book. Since Kumar is an academic and creative writer this book really speaks to both audiences, with an emphasis on the academic audience. Speaking from experience, I’ve used countless books written by creative writers to improve my writing, and I think the reverse works as well, so without further ado, here is why I find this book to be such a valuable resource as a writer and as a scholar.
Every Day I Write the Book is explicitly written to be the academic version of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life and Stephen King’s On Writing, the latter being something of a Bible for creative writers. In broad terms, what all three books have in common is that they are a cross between memoir and reflections on writing. Thus, the writing advice is grounded in personal experience and expression. This isn’t an instructional manual for academic writing in the style of Wendy Belcher’s How to Write a Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, (note on the cover “A Report” is playfully crossed out). The comparison to Dillard and King is far more apt. If you’re in search of the concrete this book will frustrate you (though, to be honest, if you’re looking for the concrete in writing instruction most books and blogs will likely frustrate you. However, if you’re looking for a writing companion, a book that offers commiseration regarding the challenges of writing: the loneliness, the uncertainty, the struggle to find the right words or frankly any words whatsoever, this is a book to add to your collection.
I would put this book in the category of writing lifestyle more than genre guidebook. It’s not going to tell you how to follow the formula of academic writing. Instead the book offers daily encouragement toward finding the writing and academic lifestyle that works for you. To this end, Kumar offers his own life as an example and conducts interviews with other creative and scholarly writers to offer insight into the genre and process.
In my opinion, it’s good to study as many examples as possible as you advance in your own writing journey. So, let’s dig into the benefits of this particular writing book and why you should consider adding it to your collection (anyone else have a shelf full of books on writing?).
If I were to judge by the synopsis on the back of Every Day I Write the Book, I would assume the book is largely a writing how to. However, as I delved deeper into the book, I began to realize that on a deeper level, the book is a thoughtful provocation and critique of academic writing norms. For that reason I would say where students may choose to add this book to their collection, senior academics have an obligation to read and grapple with Kumar’s critique.
Reflecting on a wide array of writing practices, industries that surround and profit off of academic writing, (journals and accountability coaching), what writing is rewarded, and consistently returning to the subject of race and academia, this book challenges readers inside the Ivory Tower to confront the practices that are often uncritically reproduced within the academy.
As an independent scholar I found, especially toward the end of the book, a lot of catharsis in Kumar’s challenge to the academy. I imagine many graduate students will feel something similar. For new tenure track academics this book could be the reminder you need to stay true to yourself and your voice. There is a chapter Kumar writes about the inspiration he finds in talking to his younger colleagues, who are blazing the trail in being on the tenure track but not capitulating to its structural pressures for conformity. For older faculty I think the provocation is, what can you do for the next generation to recognize that the academic world has changed and so must its conventions?
The book may at times feel like a direct attack, and it may be tempting to toss it away. But, I think for the reader who sits in their own discomfort as Kumar interrogates a formidable range of academic writing topics, the rewards will be well worth the challenges. It undoubtedly lends itself to being reread and is well worth owning a copy.
Sophia Basaldua-Sun, Ph.D., lives in New York and works as an independent scholar. This review was first published on her own website, Maison Metropolitanist, on April 27, 2021, and is reprinted here with permission from the author. The original can be found on Sophia’s website.