Monday, October 20, 2008
Although the copy I just stumbled across while exploring a used bookstore I rarely visit is about twice as long as the copy I had in college. I think kids today have more advantages than I did.
I can't remember if I've praised this book here. It's about writing a college paper. It's not just a grammar book (though there's some grammar review in it). The focus is on how college papers differ from high school papers. The main difference is that, in high school (at least in American high schools), you don't need to prove anything with your paper. Or if you do, the topic has already been selected. You can write papers where the "thesis" sentence is "There are three key symbols in To Kill a Mockingbird," write a paragraph on each symbol (Begin: "X is a symbol." Then write one sentence on what it symbolizes. Then write one or two sentences with quotes from the novel supporting that interpretation of the symbol. Then a concluding sentence.), and finally a concluding paragraph that adds nothing of substance. Intro and final paragraphs are built like triangles, the first starting broad and getting narrow ("Symbolism is important in literature. ... This book uses symbols to help with the story and to get across the author's view of the world. There are three key symbols"), and the final the reverse.
College papers don't work like that. If you turn in a paper like that, even if your grammar is perfect, will not get you far.
College papers demand that you take a stand, and thaat you support you position. It doesn't matter you position, so long a you support it.
That's a scary thought for high schoolers, even (or especially) bright high schoolers who are used to getting good grades by playing it safe and doing everything by the book.
Hence the title: Sin Boldly! You need to take a stand, not to play it safe. And since you're taking a stand, why not be bold? The paper the author works through in the book has as its thesis that Robert Frost's poem "Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Night" reveals that the poet (or the narrator) is a Satanist. That's a bit bold.
The author takes this extreme statement and argues it well. And since the thesis is so out-there, so absurd, the student feels a little more confident about any or his own ideas for arguments for his own classes.
I read this books as a freshman. I gave a copy to my brother when he went off to college. I just found this copy in time to give it to my cousin who'll be starting college next fall. I'm so glad it's still around, in print, and recently updated.