Yes, you read the title correctly.
One would assume that all or most school textbooks follow the same basic formula: over-drawn, redundant paragraphs, and the use of few engaging writing mechanics (such as fragments, alternate viewpoints, and varying sentence lengths). Admittedly, this was my definition of how a textbook is typically structured. It wasn’t until I read Arts and Ideas (a book describing the progress, innovations, and influences of major art movements) in my World Culture/World Literature class in tenth grade, that I came to appreciate the writing and thinking skills one can gain from an overlooked school book.
Like everyone else in my class, I dreaded extracting notes from what seemed like endless chapters and daunting pages of small-print characters. I thought that much of the information contained in the book was pedantic and unnecessary in terms of conveying a handful of bullet points.
However, when teachers began handing back graded essays to me with comments written in the margins, such as “Add more detail” and “Explain further,” I then realized why Arts and Ideas was written to be so informative and overflowing with even the most minute of details. To allow the reader to fully comprehend the time period in which the art movement was occurring, the authors of the book included as many adjectives and descriptive words as possible about the works of art/architecture, mind-set, religion, and culture of the people living in a particular region during a pivotal moment in art history (ex. People residing in Florence, Italy during the Renaissance).
I decided that to become a better writer, I had to apply this concept to my own essays and papers; I made it my goal to be able to grab the reader’s attention, and to hold onto it from beginning to end. To do so, I made a concerted effort to expand my vocabulary, and to thoroughly delineate settings, people, emotions, objects, etc that readers would not otherwise be able to conjure on their own. In other words, I needed to clearly translate what only I could envision in my mind onto paper, so that any reader could easily grasp the point I am trying to get across.
Today, writing in detail comes naturally to me; specifying my thoughts and the direction they are headed in is an automatic, and not a cognizant action.
On a different note, Arts and Ideas also inspired me to view art and art history from a new perspective.
Up until tenth grade, I knew little to nothing about art mediums, movements, or styles throughout the centuries and decades. Most art books that I had read barely skimmed or touched upon the impact, influences, amazing precision, or social commentaries that are reflected in works of art/architecture from a range of movements. Naively, I thought nothing of the complexity and intricacy that went into making a single work of art.
But after reading Arts and Ideas, and taking the time to fathom all of the details that they are able to squeeze onto each and every page, I developed a newfound love for art and art history.
Now that college is just around the corner, I have considered majoring or minoring in Medieval, Renaissance, or Enlightenment Art/Architecture.
Who knew that one school book could be so affective?