Friday, September 23, 2005

Response to Close Reading

I’d like to respond to Anita’s blog (see Close Reading) about close reading with some practical suggestions related to the reading of literature or other narrative texts. My first suggestion is to mark your texts. When I read a novel, I write a few words or a short phrase about the plot on the top outside corner of each page. For example, on page one I might write “Harry gets letter” (though, I might abbreviate “Harry” as “H”), and on page two I might write “H boards train.” I might also use the top left corner to note details about characters, such as, “H meets Sarah—lawyer, sister to Robert”. This technique not only helps me stay focused on my reading, but also makes it easier to find textual references later (in class, when writing an essay). In the margins I write definitions of words I had to look up. I also circle, underline and box words or phrases that are important to the theme, or reveal a pattern of word choices and/or literary devices. I try to make some note in the margin explaining what/why I’ve underlined, circled, or boxed; for instance, if I notice that many of the metaphors used in a text are animal-based, I might write “animal” in the margin next the underlined comparison of a man to a bird. I might further highlight a pattern by recording other page numbers where I see similar animal comparisons: “SEE 35, 78, 147”. I might also use the margins to ask questions, such as “who is ‘the man’?” or “why does H run away?”. In novels that jump back and forth in time/place, or where there are shifting narrative points of view, I mark these changes in the text, as well. For example, I might write “SHIFT to Vince, 1938” or “Flashback--Paris 1910.” These marginal notes really help me to keep track of what’s going on in a text.


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