Book by Robert J. Nash
Review by Claire Lopatto
Assistant to the Dean of General Studies
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Robert J. Nash’s book is an introduction to and examination of the use of personal narrative as a legitimate genre of scholarly writing. Nash’s interest in what he calls scholarly personal narrative (referred to throughout the book as SPN) evolved over his 30 years of college teaching and scholarship. The book is well structured: it builds upon the foundation of initially explaining what personal narrative is and why it matters, then moves onto the concrete: suggested guidelines and examples of SPN from his own students. Although this subject may initially appear to target faculty, I believe it can be a resource to the advising profession where so much interaction with students involves learning and respecting their personal stories.
Expect to find a lot of the author in this book. His casual tone belies a passionate argument. He uses much of his own SPN to illustrate and explain some theoretical points. With this method Nash walks a fine line of potentially overpowering his message with his life stories but he generally succeeds in using his own narratives as successful segues into larger issues.
The guidelines Nash sets for SPN are useful and provide a tangible framework for the genre. This offering of boundaries gives weight to Nash’s thesis that SPN is a valid academic discipline. While Nash argues for the value of SPN and provides examples from academia he doesn’t adequately tackle the limits of its use. While the genre of personal narrative may be useful in fields that routinely utilize records of personal and social histories (i.e. anthropology and other social studies) it is problematic or at best limited in other academic disciplines. As academic advisors we constantly deal with boundaries: they may impede but also protect. They are a reality of students’ lives life both in and out of academia and need to be addressed.
Examples of former students’ attempts at SPN are the most engaging and dynamic part of the book. Nash gives an interesting mix of examples from eight students in diverse situations. There is an energy and poignant quality in hearing the students speak in their own voice. This section strongly conveys the process and positive use of SPN.
This is definitely not a book that every academic advisor will find useful. However many of us who have spent years in our profession listening to students and helping them integrate and balance ambitions and talents with the reality of their own personal narratives will agree with Nash that “Good teaching, good helping, and good leadership are, in one sense, all about storytelling and story-evoking.” (p. 2).
Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power of Personal Narrative. (2004) Book by Robert J. Nash. Review by Claire Lopatto. New York:Teachers College Press. $21.95. 192 pp.ISBN # 0807745251