One-Star Amazon Reviews of Pulitzer Winners

Great info for aspiring historians.

The Junto

Portrait Of Joseph PulitzerWe talk a lot about accessibility in historical writing. Many of us worry whether the academic historical profession has much to say to a broad popular audience. It’s a pretty old form of anxiety. But what do the general public in the United States really want from their history books?

A few days ago, I decided to try an experiment. I collected all the one-star customer reviews at for the last twenty years of Pulitzer Prize winners in history. (No award was given in 1994, so I included books from 1995 to 2014.) I wanted to see whether I could identify common complaints. Obviously, this wouldn’t be a very scientific experiment, but at least it would be reasonably systematic—slightly better, perhaps, than relying on anecdotes from acquaintances.

View original post 1,026 more words


NaNoWriMo: Do you have it in you??

It is nigh on the third day of the National Novel Writing Month challenge, and I am 289 words into my “novel”. I attempted this mountain of a challenge two years ago mostly as a way to jump start my writing, and barely made any headway as I was up to my eyebrows in graduate school madness for the past two years. To be fair, my novel this year is just the continuation of the one I began two years ago. Until 2012, I never in a million years would have believed I would be interested in writing, as a hobby at least. The life of academics is the stuff of writing for work, because you have to and you want to be published, and it’s pretty much mandatory. I never thought I would write for “fun”. Me? A creative writer? Please.

And then it happened. A little over two years ago I came home from a bar with my roommate, still drunk from a night of awkwardly standing around as she and her friends played pool or danced salsa, and posted what I thought would be a ‘one-shot’ sort of thing online that I had written on a whim all in one sitting a few days before. (Whew, can I run on, or can I run on?) The next morning, a miraculous thing happened. I had my first review. It is still to this day, my favorite, longest, and most detailed review of my work. I was in awe. I could not fathom how some stranger, some faceless phantom out there in the void of the internet not only found my work, read it, liked it, but took the time to write a positive, constructive review on in. I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of a Sally Field moment. They like me! They really like me!

But then, as soon as the wonder and joy washed over me, I was hit with what is much more of my natural state of emotion: anxiety. Oh my gosh. People expect me to write more. I had not even thought of it. Can I even do that? Do I even know how? I’ve never written anything creatively in all my life. AND IT HAS TO BE GOOD. BECAUSE I AM AN OVERACHIEVER.


Come to find out, I did (do?) have a gift for writing, and I was able to formulate an actual plot with characters and goings-on and so forth. I wrote and posted steadily from about June to October. I still remember the day of my last posting, October 18th. I still don’t know if it was me running out of steam, or becoming even more overwhelmed by school and life and whatnot. Had I psyched myself out by putting too much pressure on myself? I had gone from doing this for fun, for me, on a whim, to obsessively checking my writing stats several times a day. Checking my email again and again for even the slightest review. I started to worry what those faceless phantoms in the void would think about what I wrote next. I wanted to please them. And therein lay my ruin.

I continued to receive sporadic reviews and comments over the next two years. Every so often I would get a “omg i love it! pllleeezzzeee update soon!” And I would chastise myself mentally. Bad me. Why hadn’t I updated? My public was waiting. I did have ideas for plots, but I suddenly became stuck. All along, I had really just sat down and written whatever came into my mind at that moment. The story took shape as I wrote it. There was next to no planning involved. Then, the more I wrote, and the more chapters and characters that appeared, it was absolutely necessary to at least have some kind of end game in mind. My friends who were writers would ask me, after I had drummed up the courage to show them my work, this is good, but what is your plan? Who is the villain? Where are you going with the main character? All completely legitimate questions one would ask a proper writer. But I didn’t really know.

Once I began to think about it, I realized that the writing had been so much fun for me at the time because it served as a creative outlet, an escape from the tedium of my classes and the melancholy that had enveloped me for so long. When I sat down to write I felt a rush that I had not felt in a long time, and different from the one I experienced when writing about a subject I liked for class. Then, I began to feel depressed about not finding joy in something that had made me so happy for so long out of no where, and not only that; but having that outlet become a source of anxiety and stress over time.

To round things out because it is late and tomorrow is Monday and I have to face the world with some semblance of purpose, I figured out something about myself that I had only just touched on before. I cared too much about what people thought (including myself) and was suffering from analysis paralysis. The enemy of creativity is over-thinking. Not that creative things aren’t edited or reviewed; but that one needs to find a place of serenity, a place of “flow”, or the zone, as I call it. Just let it be. Be in the present, and let go. From there, comes the flow, and before you know it, your’re in the zone. I’m going to use this self-pep talk this week as I attempt to chip away at my “novel” that is really just an experiment in ‘creative being.’ Calling it a novel makes me feel like a phony. I don’t have an extensive plot line and I have no idea how it ends, so in a way it’s sort of like real life. My writing happens in real time. And the only way to live, to be in the moment, is to let go and let flow. Hopefully that is where I will find myself at a few points this month.

Wish me luck! And good luck to all other writers and creative spirits sending a piece of their souls into the void. We’re all in it together. Just like life. Let go and let flow.