The substance of the book begins in the introduction, “Spaces for Writing,” and touches on three topics: “Discovering Contexts for Writing,” “Going Boldly through Writing Processes,” and “Exploring Visual Literacy.” In “Discovering Context for Writing,” Liz and Jonathan wander through the ideas of information overload, disciplines, creativity, personal versus public expression, and audience. In “Going Boldly through Writing Processes,” Liz and Jonathan introduce us to their collaborators Kevin and Zander (who are not brothers). The four of them give the reader a brief tour of the creative and collaborative process, emphasizing multimodal communication, methods of organizing and keeping notes, and the importance of revision and adaptation in collaborative writing. In “Exploring Visual Literacy,” the quartet provide a brief history on visual rhetoric, some of the reasons for the choices they made in the look and design of the textbook, and discuss the effect of visual composition upon the message. In the introduction, the reader can begin to recognize the use of homage in the scenes, generally in the backgrounds, to various modern media and pop cultural icons. From noir detective films to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (White & Sharman, 1975), imagery abounds to capture the reader’s attention and reinforce the written message. The reframing section introduces us to Cindy, Luis, and Carol, and they help the reader grasp the idea of visual storytelling.
In “Why Rhetoric,” Liz and Jonathan piece together a definition of rhetoric, reanimate ancient views of rhetoric, and set rhetorical concepts loose on the world. I particularly enjoyed the issue’s cover art, an homage to Boris Karloff's portrayal of Frankenstein (Laemmle & Whale, 1931), with the reanimation of the character as Aristotle. In this issue Liz and Jonathan define rhetoric, addressing the common misconception of the term and rescuing it from the popular, degrading notion of rhetoric as sneaky or deceptive. We are introduced to the historical and toon representations of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero (Marcus Tullius) as a way of understanding the long standing arguments over rhetoric, both for and against. The reader is introduced to the concepts of ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos through amusing and thought-provoking examples, both textual and visual. The examples and applications of each of these four foundational parts of Aristotelian rhetoric in modern communication were particularly good, ranging from public speaking to email and social media. However, the authors do not present the traditional canon of rhetoric in this chapter—no mention is made of invention, arrangement, style, memory, or delivery as rhetorical processes (although passing reference is made to some of these concepts later in the text). The reframing part of the chapter I found brilliantly conceived; answering the very question most modern students ask about having to study any ancient modes of thought: “What does it have to do with me?”
Though the issue, “Why Rhetoric,” is brilliantly done, I was disappointed to note a distinct absence of any pre-platonic rhetoricians represented in the chapter. This chapter, read by a student with no background in ancient rhetoric, would believe that rhetoric was invented by the Romans. None of the sophists are presented, which leaves a very imperfect and slanted view of rhetoric and the history of the spoken and written word in the West.
“In Strategic Reading,” Liz and Jonathan investigate texts and analyze meanings, put the pieces together with synthesis, use reading strategies, and imagine ideal readers. An interesting chapter, the material covered provides as much discussion of historical and influential US authors and speakers as it does techniques and strategies for writing itself. I appreciated the continued use of the analysis of language, specifically the epistemology of words and terms, in the chapter. It was also an excellent strategy to reinforce the meanings and use of ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos while explaining the elements of strategic reading throughout the chapter. I found the discussion of Frederick Douglass’s evolving portrait on the frontispieces of his book editions from 1845 to 1855 fascinating and useful. The discussion of reading strategies was comprehensive and practical, simple enough for the most basic writing student to grasp. Liz and Jonathan’s presentation of imagining ideal readers is insightful and makes the concept of audience more comprehensible.
“In Writing Identities,” Liz and Jonathan leap to identities in writing, try out choices for different audiences, and reveal the performer within the text. In this chapter we are introduced to Metamorph, a superhero who’s “superpower is discourse” (Losh et al., 2013, p. 116). The discussion of identity is humorous and easily comprehended, and is used to provide more personal information about the authors. They also introduce the idea of authenticity, and the problems with a writer claiming to be something he or she isn’t, or usurping the works of other writers as their own. As we enter Metamorph’s Cave, nothing like Plato’s Cave, we learn about creativity and invention, with humorous homages to various superhero classics such as Batman (1939) and The Tick (Edlund, 1988). I found the control board of rhetoric (Losh et al., 2013, p. 131) quite comprehensive, indicating all the essential aspects of how one adjusts the style of what one presents to an audience. Finally, they provide an amusing representation of how a writer performs within the text, how the choice of words, punctuation, and style expresses one's fundamental “authorial identity” (Losh et al., 2013, p. 133). They end with a quick but effective introduction to the idea that mistakes can be opportunities to learn and revise for future success in writing.
“In Argument Beyond Pro and Con,” Jonathan and Liz take us on a whirlwind tour of spotlighting strategies for argument, setting the scene for arguable assertions, zooming in on claims and evidence, and focusing on effective organization. Through examples of talk shows, TV court dramas, and game shows the reader is provided with what can be considered the meat of constructing arguments. Though entertaining, I did not find this chapter as insightful or clear as the prior chapters. I believe that too much material was crammed into the chapter and it might have been better disseminated had it been broken into two chapters. What I did find as an extremely clever and insightful pedagogical tool was to equate the structure of argument as the structure of a sandwich—that certain parts may be rearranged according to preference and style, but that certain components must contain the argument like the bread contains the substance of the sandwich.
“In Research,” Liz and Jonathan introduce the importance of keeping the story straight, tracking down sources, deciding which sources to trust, the use of summary, paraphrase and quotation, and citation. This chapter is useful in any area of writing, from scholarly to historical fiction. Liz and Jonathan discuss the importance of taking notes, whether physical or digital, and having an organizational system to file away notes for easy retrieval later. That part of the chapter alone would be useful for any student to read, whether in a writing course or a graphics course; proper organization of resources, both physical and digital, is a skill I have seen lacking in most of my students. The importance of verifying reliable and trustworthy sources, primary or secondary, is discussed at length, as is what primary and secondary sources are. The section discussing the differences among summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting was humorous and easily digested. Though I liked all of the chapter, the section on proper citation with an emphasis on how easily one can plagiarize another author or artist without intending to is critical information for students at all levels and in all disciplines. The use of Tom Gammill’s characters from The Doozies to visually represent inadvertent plagiarism (Losh et al., 2013, p. 204) was particularly clever.
“In Rethinking Revision,” Jonathan and Liz take us through looking beyond the red ink, reviewing rhetorically, seeing through others’ eyes, and revising radically. This topic is probably one of the most disturbing and discouraging topics for writing students and professional writers alike. Edits and revisions are an essential part of the writing process, but can be extremely painful and daunting to perform. Their approach to remove the fear and intimidation of the process, by embodying and demystifying the delete key (or eraser) and the red pen is novel and approachable. It was also useful to provide evidence that such peerless authors like Jane Austen revised their works, and did so regularly and successfully, helps to bring such icons into the realm of human experience. The various techniques of revision, review, and editing by passing the material through the hands of many of the secondary characters of the novel is ingenious and illustrates the importance of obtaining the input of others.
In the final chapter, “Going Public,” Jonathan and Liz launch into the future of genres, navigate media, and demystify the journey to publication. This is an extremely short chapter, which only glances over the topics of genre, media, and publication, but I’m not certain a more in-depth exploration would be of value to the reader. With the assumption that the audience for this textbook is students in introductory writing courses, the rapid scan approach of the material is probably all they need. The basic idea that writing must be tailored for the media it will be presented through is well addressed, and emphasis upon the importance of knowing the standards of a genre (or discipline) is well presented. Their updated definition of publishing in new media, that of going public (Losh et al., 2013, p. 261), is a useful change from the classic idea of book and magazine publishing. Most importantly, they illustrate that modern media publication is in a state of constant and rapid change, and that it is important for writers to keep up with it while not losing track of their target audience and appropriate medium.