“To Learn” is To Follow a Track: An Essay Review of The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane
In Writing as Inquiry, we were asked to read a book of our choice on travel writing. I don’t have much experience with the genre, so I left my choice up to the experts at Barnes & Noble. They recommended three books, and of the three (with Professor Strickland’s prompting) I chose, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane. After reading, we were asked to write a review essay, analyzing the larger implications of the book and how it is a representation of writing as inquiry. We submitted the essay and were given feedback. In response to the feedback, we revised our work, and the essay reviews were posted on our class travel writing website.
As with all academic writing, my immediate audience was the professor grading it, but I knew he had bigger plans for these essay reviews so I crafted my analysis accordingly. Before writing, I thought about the tone of the other pieces I wrote for the website and the pieces my classmates had written. I decided it would be appropriate to include second-person pronouns. Considering the essaying component of the piece was intended to be personal, I included first-person pronouns, as well, which I felt added to the conversation I started with the reader through choosing to address them as “you.”
To cater to the audience’s needs and the medium in which the piece would ultimately be published, I included subject headings throughout. I wanted to help the reader logically and easily navigate through my analysis. Large bodies of text are not easy to read, especially on computer screens, so I knew including as many paragraph breaks as possible would increase readability.
As for the essay's content, I had to deliberately choose which quotes and references to MacFarlane’s work would be most relatable and interesting to someone who hasn’t read the book. I could only make that distinction based on the average reader (which I consider myself to be), rather than someone who often reads travel writing, but the deliberateness with which I chose the references to his work contributed to the overall effectiveness of my essay review.
In my first submission of this essay, I focused too much on the review, and not enough on the personal analysis. Looking back, I realized I was spending too much time developing MacFarlane’s ethos by quoting him and talking about his ideas, but not enough time developing my ethos by sharing my perspective on his work and the experience of reading it.
This piece adhered to the view of writing as a social act; the combination of my review and personal analysis was intended to share with readers the experience of reading MacFarlane’s book, with the possibility of influencing them to read it and shaping their own perspective of the experience. Therefore, it was important for me share with readers the full experience of reading the book, respecting my opinion as the writer enough to integrate my perspective. In areas identified as incomplete, I expanded on my personal analysis to give the audience a comprehensive analytical review of MacFarlane’s travel writing book.