Thursday, June 02, 2005

How Do YOU Read?

The following is a post I wrote at 2 Board Alley this week:

I've found a new blog: McCarty Musings. Here's what one of the McCarty's mused the other day:

Hello, my name is McCarty Muser, and I am a serial book monogamist.

I only read one book at a time, all the way through to the end. (Although I like Kathleen Norris’ Vocabulary of Faith so much that I decided to read Cloister Walk much slower, just a little bit at a time, like a piece of cake you try to just eat one bite of, and walk away, but you keep taking little bites of every time you walk by because it is just so good.)

I never, ever cheat and read the last page first.

(there's more to this essay and it's worth the click)

This confession lead me to muse about how I read, which is usually to have five books going at a time--different levels, different intensities. Books on writing and educational theory are usually slow, painstaking reads, as are poetry volumes. Novels, biographies and so on usually depend on how easy they are to get through, and with blogs, I skim and go back (and back and back--I'm hyperactive with the mouse, I'm afraid!).

Given that I'm an English professor, though, it makes sense that I have several books going at once--the professional texts and the texts for pleasure. And I do "cheat" when it comes to texts for pleasure. I usually read the beginning, the end and then the middle, so that I can spend my time trying to figure out how the author is going to get us from point A to point Z. It turns every novel into a mystery and keeps me involved in the work.

I saw an ad for a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor recently, and scratched my noggin. Was this one more thing I'd forgotten to learn in grad school? Or is the jig up? Has the wizard been revealed behind the drapes? Am I a "kindly yet erudite literature professor" ? Nope, nope, nope, and nope.

When I read literature as a professor, I stuff the margins with notes, too-large sticky papers and fold over pages. I write inside the cover and on the back. Sometimes the books can look pretty ragged before I've even used them in class. If they're paperback, their covers are curled into a roll. Within the book, words are underlined and commented on. Within my mind, I'm following every level of symbol that I can find, thinking critically all the way: " Oh boy, another obvious river of life symbol!" or, "Fascinating stuff--plot seems octagonal--let's see how it plays out," or, "how is reading simultaneously in two languages affecting how I interpret this poem?" Inside the book, on the covers, I jot down the main ideas in the book --a sloppy precis that I can look at to refresh my forgetful mind.

When I read literature as a laywoman, I may notice symbols, allusions and so forth, but rarely do I do more than underline a passage or fold the page. Folding and underlining assume that I'll return to the book at some time, and that's not always the case, so I like to think of them as a kind of affirmation for a book enjoyed. Also, I'm not running another track of thought--a continuous loop asking "How will I teach this to a class," or "How does this idea fit in with my ideas?"

With both kinds of reading, I can get so excited that I have to tell someone about it and read from it. Depending on the situation, the other can be my students, a colleague, my husband and, in extreme circumstances (like 2 in the morning), my cats.

This electric excitement for reading is something that I've always had since before I could read. The words "hunger" and "absorb" are often used to describe a reader's enthusiasm, and, as much as I hate leaning on nearly trite expressions, I have to admit that they describe the visceral feeling I get when I read and am satisfied.

I'm sure that many of you reading this post can relate to what I'm saying. Reading was real magic (no wizard of Oz) to me. Still is.

So, that's how this professor reads.


At 4:18 PM, Blogger Clancy said...

When I review manuscripts for journals, I've started reading them once all the way through with no pen in hand, post-its, or anything else, then waiting a few days before I pick it up again (with pen). If only I had the time to read everything that way!

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous joanna said...

That's interesting--that's how I read student drafts. Why do you read manuscripts that way? And why do you wait a few days? I don't wait a few days, but I do avoid writing comments on rough drafts until a conference with the student.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry if this is off topic, but I hope someone will have a response. (I'm glad there are various web sites like this one poping up!) Writing teachers often post what they've been doing that works well or what they hope to do next semester or in the future. Very seldom do I see how such activities are graded or evaluated. Is completing a summary of an article given "credit" just for completing the task? Are there any rubrics for spelling, coherency, etc.? Students are very grade conscious, and they want to know WHY they received a particular grade on an assignment. Could some future posts not only tell what has "worked well," but how, exactly, a grade for the written assignment itself is determined. Thank you!


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