By Risa Gluskin
Here’s a contrast: I have been carrying around a perfectly relevant history book all summer. It traces the history of the so-called Spanish conquest of the Aztec people. I have barely put a dent in it despite lugging it to all my appointments, on the subway, even to BC. On the other hand, I recently read an entire book in one day, a book that his little historical relevance at all! Granted, it was raining all day and I was stuck in a hotel in Lagoon City waiting for the rain to clear so my husband and I could continue our bike trip around Lake Simcoe!
What a difference a good writer makes. Though When Montezuma Met Cortes is perfect for me as a world history teacher, the writing is plodding and is so in need of an editor that I want to offer my services for free! Mary Roach, author of my quick-read – Packing for Mars – is one of my favourite writers. She is effortlessly humorous. The pages just fly by, even the footnotes are page turners. That she enjoys researching her subject matter is obvious.
Over my career as a history and social science teacher I have put a lot of emphasis on teaching writing – not so much on style as on structure. I used to have a standard presentation for teachers called “Teach Writing with Confidence.” The first question of the presentation was: to whom does confidence refer – for the teacher in teaching writing, or for the students in writing?
Usually I read a tonne of books in the summer. I’ve been wondering why I’ve been so stalled. Now I feel vindicated that I have put so much effort into my students’ writing over the years. As brilliant in content a tome as When Montezuma Met Cortes may be, I will never get through it. It shouldn’t be this painful to access someone’s insightful investigations.
Another witty and brilliant writer whose style I absolutely adore is Mary Beard. The one other book I read this summer was her Women and Power: A Manifesto (2017). A short one – less than 100 pages. But I’ve also read her much lengthier SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome at many hundreds of pages. In the Manifesto Beard traces men’s fear of women speaking out about so-called public topics back to Greek and Roman mythology.
Risa Gluskin is the editor of Rapport. Her writing style is a work in progress.