From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

From the Geil Archive (6)—How to Write the Book

Two years ago on Round and Square (21 August 2011)—Hurtin' Country: Whoever's in New England
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Please Note: All photographs marked "DHS" are with permission of the Doylestown Historical Society. All marked "RL" are my own pictures. None of these may not be reused without permission (e-mail me about mine, and I will put you in touch with DHS if you need to contact them). Photographs marked "RF" are "royalty free."
[a] How to Climb the Peak RL
Click here for other posts in the Round and Square series "From the Geil Archive":
               Introduction                          1-Southern Mountain Museum             2-Sacred Mountain Map           
               3-Hat and Cattle                   4-Seeking Anthropology                       5-Curly Fives
               6-How to Write the Book      7-Mortarboard Man                               8-Orator
Almost one-hundred years ago, William Edgar Geil (1865-1925) started thinking about his next big book project about China. He had already sailed the length of the Yangzi River, from Shanghai to Burma, followed the equally winding course of the Great Wall, visited eighteen ancient capitals of China, and become something of a leading expert on contemporary Chinese affairs. He had transformed himself from a distinct amateur with no real knowledge about China to someone who was taken fairly seriously, at least in some quarters of government and the press. 

And this was to be the next big project. He had little way of knowing that it would be his last, but the care he put into the planning, travel, note-taking, and writing go so far beyond his other works that we see a distinctly different Geil at this time than at any time before. 
[b] One at a time RL

This was his sacred mountains book, and I happen to know a thing or two about sacred mountains in China. Long before I had heard of Geil, I thought to go to the mountains and write about them in a detail unmatched by really any writer, since even in China the vast majority of accounts about the mountains deal with just one. As I started to realize this, I came up with a phrase that has served me well. The five mountains project is "the ethnography of an idea." You can't go to the five sacred mountains, except one at a time. Nonetheless, they are an idea that is bigger than any mountain, and truly lasting.

Imagine my surprise when I learned several years later that an American traveler named William Edgar Geil had gone to all five mountains, taken detailed notes, and written a large volume on his experience. It is still, to this day, the only Western account of all five mountains. And he did this in the summer of 1919, traveling to the large cities closest to the mountains by train, and then taking donkeys the rest of the way (only to be carried up in a sedan chair, but I am getting ahead of myself).

After taking barrels of notes myself, I struggled for sometime with a key question. How can I tie the multiple themes together? How should I present the material? I remember distinctly, in the summer of 2010, sitting in my office, with my head in my hands, contemplating these questions and having a single phrase running through my mind—How to write the book?

So imagine my surprise when, later that year, while paging through the Geil archive for the first time, I came across the following, scribbled note. Boy, can I relate.
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Click here for other posts in the Round and Square series "From the Geil Archive":
               Introduction                          1-Southern Mountain Museum             2-Sacred Mountain Map           
               3-Hat and Cattle                   4-Seeking Anthropology                       5-Curly Fives
               6-How to Write the Book      7-Mortarboard Man                               8-Orator
[c] How to... DHS

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