In my last post, I mentioned how some of the best conversations that I’ve had about close reading were steeped in stories that teachers shared about their own encounters with it. I recalled one of the first times I read a text closely, remembering how the experience drew me closer to my classmates and my teacher and not merely the text.
Here’s the thing: when it’s working, close reading helps us savor delectable texts, and when we do this, we often find ourselves setting other plates at the table and inviting company. Many of us read to gain fulfillment and enter into communion with others. Close reading is not an end unto itself. It isn’t something we strive for. Close reading is a means to this far greater end.
Obviously, creating this kind of reading experience is easy when we are able to choose what we’re reading.
I’m not so certain that this is a must, though.
For instance, I remember harboring a fairly healthy resentment toward one high school English teacher who had the audacity to expect me to read and offer a meaningful analysis of T.S. Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock at the start of my senior year. I’ve written of this elsewhere. I didn’t want to read that poem, I certainly didn’t understand a word of it at first glance, and it took a while for me to recognize its relevance–but I did. And when I did? It knocked the wind out of me:
I do not think that they will sing to me.
That was something I understood, and then suddenly, there was more. It all began to make such beautiful, heartbreaking sense, and it continues to, in different ways now. I didn’t choose this text, but I’m so grateful to my former teacher, Ed Tracy, for assigning it that year.
What’s worth a close read?
Is it only what we choose for ourselves?
Or is something to be gained by trusting what others recommend or even assign us?