On Interactive Reading

Scholarly writers, William Germano argues, should count on readers’ collaboration, just like a blogger does:

I’m advocating for a riskier, less tidy mode of scholarly production, but not for sloppiness. I’m convinced, though, that the scholarly book that keeps you awake at night thinking through ideas and possibilities unarticulated in the text itself is the book worth reading. It may be that the best form a book can take—even an academic book—is as a never-ending story, a kind of radically unfinished scholarly inquiry for which the reader’s own intelligence can alone provide the unwritten chapters.

Let every writer reflect on Rilke’s famous line: “Du musst dein Leben ändern.” You must change your life. Books are life-changing for writers­—but often only for the scholars who write them. In the new order of scholarly production, let’s double down on Rilke’s dictum: You must change their lives, too.

Alan Jacobs’ recommendation on how to accomplish this:

Even in my most theoretical work, I’ve tried to think of my task as that of attracting and keeping the attention of thoughtful readers, telling them stories, doling out fascinating details that make them want to read more, keeping them to some degree in suspense until the end of any given tale. Storytelling is, for me, the fundamental mode of writing; it’s the foundation on which everything else is built. In that sense I don’t think of writing works of literary theory as being different altogether in kind from writing a personal narrative. It’s all about trying to reach human readers, writing to them as their fellow human being. Insofar as I have had any success as a writer, I really do think that it is primarily due to my keeping that goal in mind.