Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On The Reading of Books and Such


This past week I wrote an article for a non-profit organization, the Sequart Research and Literacy Organization. The article will debut on Saturday November 3rd, so be sure to check it out! Either way, I wouldn't let you forget otherwise. Nevertheless, the entire process reminded me how intimidating research can be, so I've decided to give you some pointers today to make the task less daunting.

There are some key things to remember when researching for any piece of writing, fiction or non-fiction.

First of all, researching shouldn't be a chore, it should be fun. So if you find yourself lamenting the drudgery of finding books, watching documentaries, and interviewing strangers, this is an indication that you should switch topics, because writing should be a relaxing process, at least on the research side of things. When I was doing principal research for Spirit of Orn I read two books on the expression of historical and modern paganism, two books on the history of Scandinavia, Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, and a commentary on the greater corpus of Norse Mythology. That didn't include all the Wikipedia references I followed to Yale, Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Harvard hosted portals for tertiary details, as well as the six month course I took on Norwegian, including my own self teaching regimen that I still practice regularly. Researching is hard but very rewarding, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Another thing to remember is that when researching, it's important to take into consideration the authors you are reading to get your information. Generally I did my best to research the history of the authors on Wikipedia  or other databases, to find any preconceived biases that I was working with. For instance, the author of the book I read concerning the modern expressions of paganism used to be Mormon, which is a polytheistic religion, so not only was it a natural progression for this particular author to leave the Church of Mormon and become a pantheist, animist, panentheist, etc, but it was also not surprising that the research and take on Medieval Christianity in the book was highly skewed and uninformed. That would be drawing off of his exposure to anti-Christian polemic during as stint as a Mormon. But what this told me, anyhow, was that his zeal for pursuing spiritual exploits would be sincere, so I read it knowing I could get some meaningful data from it. 

The best place to start in researching is always Wikipedia. But never trust it! That's the key. The trick is to look into the articles for their citations and attempt to find Primary Sources. This is very important to remember. In order to gather good research you need to limit your intake of third hand interpretation, which is scholastic commentary. Second hand, meaning a witness account, is valuable, but first hand, or biographical information is the best. That's why I included Sturluson's Prose Edda in my research, because it's that tiny volume that encompasses the entire corpus of Norse mythology, and was written with the intentions of cultural reclamation, unlike later editions by Saxo Grammaticus, which was written specifically to glorify the Danish people while also shining a polemical light on the heathen heritage of Denmark. All this information is highly pertinent and should be thoroughly considered before taking the pains to research something. 

Ultimately, research can be undertaken by anyone. The key is to do it well and thoughtfully. I have, for instance, a couple thousand pages of 1st century Palestine research material, but I could never write a book about that climate, only because I don't know how I would employ that information in a literary way. The difference between a poorly researched book and a well researched one is the employing of the details that you have soaked up during your studying. For instance, I decided in my book to make the speaking language of Norway Nynorsk, rather thaBokmål, because historically the former is an older, more authentic Norwegian language, going as far back as the vikings. I wanted to make a cultural statement by using Nynorsk instead. And people will pick up on that too.

Anyways, that should tide you over. I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I have. See you Thursday!

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