This book is the composition textbook or reader for my sections of First-Year Writing. Or, rather, it takes the place of a textbook or reader and evolves each time I teach my course.
My decision to write it stems in part from multiple sources of discontent with the publishers of such books as well as some of the books I've known and used before (though I'd gladly use at least one of these books again if I could). I have served on textbook selection committees for a large writing program, and every institution that has employed me has had a large number of faculty who have written textbooks for composition courses. Here are a few of the books I've used before:
- Rosa Eberly and Edward P.J. Corbett's The Elements of Reasoning, has not been updated in a very long time. And because my university houses Rhetoric in the School of Communications, it isn't the best fit for a Writing Studies course in a Liberal Arts (and more specifically, Humanities) department. Yes, I do know that Rhetoric was one of the original liberal arts. As they say on the internet, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
- Speaking of what "they say," I initially loved the concept of They Say I Say, but I did not love that the so-called "Moves that Matter in Academic Writing" were accompanied in the version with readings by a bunch of essays that were not, by definition, academic scholarship. By that selection, a professor is forced to concede you can learn all about academic writing from reading the Cato Institute or The Washington Post. I did not find all of the essays they included to be objectionable in some way, but once I realized that many students weren't really reading the lists of formulas, or were too readily concluding that they simply needed to learn how to agree or disagree, I decided not to adopt it.
- I started my career teaching with Writing Lives, a book edited by Writing Program Assistants at the Ohio State University. It was primarily an edited collection organized around the concept of literacy (or different kinds of literacy), and though I think both I and my students enjoyed the book, it no longer exists. My next book was Ramage and Bean's Writing Arguments, which uses the Toulmin approach and encourages discussions about enthymemes and warrants. I found those terms useful in my own writing, but I didn't think that vocabulary was used enough (or at all) across the curriculum to provide a common language that students could take with them as the moved forward in their studies.
- I taught with John Ruskiewicz and Andrea Lunsford's Everything's An Argument for quite some time, followed by Lester Faigley and Jack Selzer's Good Reasons for quite some time. Though I have fond memories of working with those authors (Lester and John, who were wonderful mentors) and found their books to be excellent, I wanted to find a way to talk about writing that wasn't rooted entirely in proving something. I also have had a poor time in the past two years getting my students to read from textbooks that are so obviously college textbooks. This experience no doubt reflects my own limitations as a teacher as much as any limitation in a composition reader or scholar, but it, as much as anything, has contributed to my sense that I wanted to provide my own.
Beyond how I feel about these other books, my interest in writing this book was fueled by the very existence of the platform Scalar, which allows us to experiment with content and style and revise in accordance to readers' feedback and at any point I learn something that inspires me to update or change it. Because it is free and not published or owned by a corporation, the book can exist here solely for the purpose of sharing a love for education and intellectual growth rather than as a product sold for profit or a CV line for tenure. In short, Scalar is a lovely model of how academic writing should work. It allows me to promote and embody the principles that have made me the scholar I am so that my first-year writing course can be a wonderful model of them as well.
Finally, I've written this book because I want to show that you can be fun, stylish, and silly and still write with substance.
If you are interested in using this book for your class, please click here.