May 5, 2022
Carol Brennan King
I realize we are not having class this month, but that does not mean we might not be writing, or reading.
In fact, I hope you are doing lots of close reading this month.
So what is close reading anyway? Well, Timothy Shanahan puts it this way: “an intensive analysis of a text in order to:
come to terms with what it says,
how it says it,
and what it means.”
It is also defined as a thoughtful, disciplined reading of a text or close analysis. (1)
James Jasinski puts it this way: “The principal object of close reading is to unpack the text. Close readers linger over words, verbal images, elements of style, sentences, argument patterns, and entire paragraphs and larger discursive units within the text to explore their significance on multiple levels.” from Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Sage, 2001)
Generally, figuring out what it says should not be all that hard to do. You look at each word, note what it means, then figure out what the sentence means when you string those words together in this particular way.
But the how it says it takes a little more thought! Reading closely is when we examine the text carefully to see what the writer did or how the writer wrote to provoke the outcome or response to the writing the writer wanted.
OK, in people-talk – think about how you might respond to this passage. The door stood ajar. She remembered locking it last night. She always locked it. But now it was open.
How did you feel when you finished reading those lines? Why?
Now look at these lines:
John watched the shadows dance on the wall and was glad he had left the window up. He turned back to the window where the morning breeze played with the light curtains his mother insisted he hang in the new apartment. He swung his feet to the floor and sighed, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Now, how about those lines. What do you feel and why?
OK, enough of that. You all have four weeks with no writing class, but I hope you take some of that time to read. And to read closely. Jeff Goins puts it this way in his online article Why Writers Need to Read if They Want to Be Good:
“Writers need to read. A lot. Books. Periodicals. And so on. They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.”
Now I might say could jot down rather than should jot down, but the key point here is that good writing can rub off if you read it to understand what made it good.
Some people say that just reading good writing will rub off without your noticing it as you read.
So I hope you spend time reading good writing this month.
Check out this article: https://www.businessinsider.com/ernest-hemingway-reading-list-writers-2017-2 My guess is you have already read many on Hemingway’s list of books for young writers. OK, we may not all be young, but that does not devalue this list for us. Read some of them again, looking to see how the authors accomplished what we consider great writing, or lasting writing.
Hemingway himself is considered one of the writers aspiring writers should read.
The point of this little epistle today is to encourage you to read good writers and notice the writing. What makes it good? Then think about where you use some of those techniques in your own writing.