This morning, with the last days of sabbatical draining away, and with today being Monday, and my nocturnal clock still being just enough on European time to be waking up with lots of energy at 5 am, I decided it was time. I started reading for my next book.
It's so wee and nascent right now, this next book, which (perhaps paradoxically) means it is huge. And that means I have license to read capaciously this summer, as I figure out what the chapters might be like, expanding and/or ditching the ideas I have already.
It is also the case that this will be the first book that I have started as a book. My first one, of course, began as a dissertation, a wholly different beast in emotional and intellectual heft. The second one began as an article that spun out of control. This one, though, this one is starting as a book. (We'll see if it ends that way.)
Someone asked me recently how long it takes to write a book, and that is a tough question, in that it depends on the book itself, and even more importantly, on the position one is in when writing that book. So, for example, I wrote my last book partly as an assistant professor with lots of time for writing, and partly as an associate professor; the first book, partly as a graduate student with all the time in the world, and partly as an assistant professor. (Note how time always seems to expand when looking backward. I think this is a real condition of faculty life, or at least for faculty life where I work, but that might be for another post.) In effect, then, the first book, from conception to covers, took about eight years. Although if I were to count the response paper I wrote as a first-semester M.A. student that tried to articulate the ancient relation between sports and rhetoric, then it took more like twelve years, but that seems a bit long. And counting the protracted period when I worked on the second book as an article, that second one will have taken about eight years too. These two overlapped for a few years, though, in that I started the second book-as-article well before finishing the revisions on the first one. So I can count on eight years till this next one is done, right? I hope not, but if that's what it takes, then totally. And it might well take longer. I'd love to hear how long others' books have taken/are taking. I'm sure there is lots of variance, because we all work with such different rhythms and under widely divergent conditions. I've learned that my long-term projects tend to have lots of stops and starts by necessity.
This book has been percolating for almost two years now; I would say it started in the early fall of 2006, and Burke (from the book just finished) gave me the idea. I read enough then to write a sabbatical proposal, and last spring I found lots of leads for it when teaching history of rhetoric. But then I set it aside this year while finishing that second book. And now my program for the summer (and, let's face it, next year) will be to read and think broadly before settling on--and into--the texts I will focus on specifically. This morning I started with Aristotle's History of Animals, which is ten books and three loeb volumes long. Reading and thinking about animals in the history of rhetoric will most likely, like the last books, take me into biology, religion, politics, and education. And who better to start with than the dude who wrote about all of these matters, as well as rhetoric? It's still early, but I must say that I don't think I'll soon tire of reading about horses and elephants and otters and dogs, and thinking about how they have--some quietly and some noisily--shaped our views on language.