Rudimentary Reader Response: Directions

The book you’ve chosen to read is the culmination of our year of reading, just like your last, choice-driven essay is the culmination of our year of writing. We began with 50-word short stories; now we end with a full-length novel you chose on your own.

Next week, we will begin preparations for your final exam and Regents Exam. Your book will be part of those preparations, because most of you will be able to use that book as evidence in the essay you write for the Regents. This week, you will be discussing your book with each other through the comments section of this website.

Obviously, not everyone will have finished. That’s a sad but ineluctable result of this process. But even those of you who didn’t finish have a lot to discuss. This process reflects your management of time and your understanding of your reading habits, not just your experience reading a text; more importantly, what I am asking you to do requires only that you read something. Finishing will help, but it is not necessarily required.

The carrot for this : This is another adversarial score, and you will only receive points for what you contribute to this discussion online. We’ve practiced this kind of thinking-through-writing exercise far too often; you need another chance to see its benefits.

Note: You will need to go to the next post in order to have the conversation. These are just the directions:

You will enter a kind of written discussion that is called reader response. This theory of reading, built in part on the ideas of teachers like John Holt, asserts that there is no meaning in a text without the reader—that is, without you. It rejects the teacher’s guide that provides the “correct” symbolism of an object in the play, and it circumvents the reflex to Google your way around analysis. To some extent, this kind of writing makes any sort of argument about authenticity and SparkNotes (that one is from last year’s tenth grade course) moot, or of little or no practical value.

As I said before, you will spend part of next week and the week following practicing the onerous critical lens essay; I will continue to argue,however, that the skill of Regents Exam-based writing is defunct at best and deleterious at worst. But we can spend at least some time having an insightful discussion about the books you read here at the end of the year. I believe that good books get into your head and resonate for a while, and that they can take on meaning and depth at strange and unplanned moments.

At any rate, we will borrow the philosophy of a reader response from the one taught in WCC Composition and Literature, a senior-year, college-level course that a sizable percentage of you will take in two years. This stripped-down version could be used to formulate a full-length essay (that link is to the assignment in last year’s course), but we are going to use it to fuel discussion.

First, choose a specific piece of your book that resonated with you. It could be a quotation, a chapter, a plot point, a character—almost anything specific works. Think of what stuck with you, what you particularly enjoyed, etc., and focus on that. Then complete one or more of the following in the comments section of this post. For each, you must give a brief bit of context for your choice in terms of plot, thinking of what a person unfamiliar with your book would need to know in order to understand the rest of what you say.

  • Option #1: This kind of comment analyzes the selected piece of the book by breaking down literary elements (e.g., character development or thematic development). Use some of these questions, taken from that Composition and Literature guide: What is the theme or central idea of the piece? What essential question does the work make you think about? How does the author say what he does? Examine the voice, tone and devices used—what does the text make you feel?
  • Option #2: This kind of comment explicates or unfolds the reader’s connection to the quotation, i.e., the reader’s experience of and reaction to the text.Follow one or two of these ideas (again taken from the Composition and Literature guide):
    • What about the text is significant: Does it deliver a message, a moral, teach a lesson, and invite thought?  Focus on the details from the work.  What about the text is most interesting and compelling? 
    • What personal connections can you make?  Events, people, other works read… What are you mindful of?
    • What is your favorite phrase, sentence or word from the text?  Explain why this caught your attention. 
  • Option #3: This kind of comment addresses the universality and worldly relevance of the quotation. Offer your thoughts on why this piece of your book is important and should be studied. If the text teaches a moral, why is it crucial for it to be taught? If the concepts raised deserve further study, why is that? Why does this quotation matter beyond an English classroom?

Each option should be developed in four or five sentences or so, not much more. Your goal is to invite your peers into your experience with the book you chose. Remember also to continuously revisit the post in order to read what others have to say and to extend conversations.

Remember: These are just the directions. You will need to go to the next post in order to have the conversation.