Anthology of “Good” Writing
Posted: 07 December 2016 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m looking for a collection of examples of “good” writing for use in first-year, university composition classes. Ideally the anthology will have examples from a variety of disciplines (humanities, sciences, engineering, journalism, etc.), as the students in the course will have diverse majors and fields of study. Fiction and creative writing examples are not required. It should also be reasonably priced. I’ve posted this request to my Facebook account, but I thought the folks here might possibly have a suggestion or two.

This past year I used Bedford/St. Martin’s Ways of Reading, which is the default selection chosen by the composition staff here at Texas A&M. While it is a collection of superb essays, and I would gladly use it again in a different course, throwing Michel Foucault or Judith Butler at first-year engineering students and expecting them to glean any lessons about writing from them is, to put it mildly, a tad optimistic.

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Posted: 08 December 2016 12:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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For something different, try “The Soul of the White Ant” by Eugene Marais.  The title is off-putting but it’s a beautifully written account of the life of the white ant with much deeper layers about the nature of existence etc.  I got it for free (now about £2) on Kindle but I don’t know if it’s widely available in book form.  Truman Capote writes well ("In Cold Blood” springs to mind if you exclude fiction) but his books aren’t too cheap these days.  I also like Simon Singh’s work - “The Code Book” is about codes and code-breaking which could appeal to the more scientifically oriented students.

edited to answer question more precisely

[ Edited: 08 December 2016 01:09 AM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 08 December 2016 02:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In my palmy days I subscribed to the Scientific American for a number of years. It was a superlatively edited periodical.  The articles covered a very broad spectrum of scientific investigation, and were all a pleasure to read (I’m not saying I understood all of them, mind).  Many of the scientifically trained people I’ve known could hardly be trusted to compose a simple shopping list, but the editors of that periodical turned every single article into an experience of reading enjoyment.  Can’t answer for today’s editors, but It should not cost more than a few bucks to find out. Any current subscribers to Scientific American around, to confirm or confute what I say?

ElizaD:  Checking out Marais on wikipedia, I learned that he wrote mostly in Afrikaans, so it must be his English translator who deserves at least some of the credit for “good” writing*. ----- It’s a fascinating book, from which a number of SF writers have borrowed ideas.  I was shocked to read how that shit Maeterlinck stole the book almost intact. That’s the kind of person they give Nobel Prizes to?  .....Maeterlinck wrote another book, about the life of the bee, which (as a whilom bee-keeper) I can certify is total rubbish. I doubt if Maeterlinck ever saw a bee in his life, let alone a termite.

*Many an excellently written book has been hopelessly mangled in translation

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Posted: 09 December 2016 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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You’re right, lionello. The translation is beautifully written and still worth reading.

Now come on, all you learned folk out there - surely someone can add to the list?

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Posted: 09 December 2016 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Eliza’s suggestion appears to be a single book-length work, rather than an anthology.
Scientific American has changed owners (more than once, I think) since the Good Old Days, and while the current product isn’t bad, IMHO it isn’t up to the standards Lionello (and I) fondly remember.

Houghton Mifflin publishes an annual series called “Best American Essays”; you might try looking at one of the recent volumes or The Best American Essays of the Century. I don’t know if restricting it to essay format and American writing is too restrictive, but given the low cost compared to most textbooks, you could supplement this with other sources.

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Posted: 09 December 2016 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Ideally what I’d like are examples of academic work. That’s what’s missing from all the anthologies. The goal of a freshman comp course is to prepare students for the rest of their undergraduate careers, but none of the readings are academic (save Butler and Foucault). I want examples of how biologists integrate source material into their reports, how historians structure their arguments, examples of appropriate academic tone.

Broadview has a really nice, reasonably priced anthology (Clear Writing), but the “historical” section includes work by Joan Didion and the science section has one of S.J. Gould’s SciAm essays (at least Gould was a real scientist). It’s all very good writing, but of limited utility in prepping students for academic work outside of the humanities.

Part of the problem is that all these works are compiled by people with PhDs in rhetoric and composition who don’t seem to grasp that students need examples in their own discipline. The best academic writing book I know of is by a comp lit person, not a rhet/comp person; comp lit folks are used to working and thinking across disciplines. (Alas, it’s aimed at grad students and not undergrads.)

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Posted: 10 December 2016 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Ah, thank you.  That makes it a lot clearer.

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Posted: 10 December 2016 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Boy, that makes it tougher, especially if you really want “academic” writing in the strictest sense (i.e., as published in academic journals.) In general, I would not hold that up as something to be emulated (except for mine, of course ;).

But, for the sciences at least, you might consider The Best of the Best of American Science Writing or one of the series from which it was drawn.  Going back to Lionello’s Scientific American suggestion, they occasionally publish collections of articles from the magazine on particular topics, and--what might be better suited for you, because the range of topics is greater--I’ve seen one or more anthologies of SciAm articles by Nobel Prize winners.  However, I got mine as a subscription-renewal premium; I don’t know whether they were (or are) for sale per se.  Might be worth looking into, though.

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