As an artist and a scholar, I prefer the specific detail to the generalization, images to ideas, obscure facts to clear symbols, and the discovered wild fruit to the synthetic jam.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov
An epiphany, oftentimes, doesn’t form as a flash or explosion, but a slow, forward creeping light. This is mine with close reading.
This overwhelming sensation of pulling the wings off the butterfly, of disassembling the parts and not understanding the whole, blind men trying to describe an elephant…all of this. I have read Falling In Love With Close Reading by Lehman/Roberts, and dug plenty into Notice & Note, and When Kids Can’t Read (Beers), and conducted a study of Kelly Gallagher of nearly fangirl proportions. All of these great minds, and intense professional development with close reading, and still I was left bereft.
It ruined my reading life.
For years, (and I am not being hyperbolic) I found that no novel, no news article, heck, not even a cereal box would cross my path without my examination of every word in close detail of where and what and how and when some text passage would spark my EUREKA! LOOK AT THIS CHARACTER RELATIONSHIP TO SETTING! This happened long before I heard the term ‘close reading.’ Annotating, discussion points, questioning, digging…on and on. The (over) analysis of literature, news, history, politics, religion, movies, poetry– and yes — cereal boxes, no longer came to me with just the need to read [say this in a Top Gun voice of ‘I feel the need for speed’]. I didn’t need to read for myself, I needed to read through every students’ brain that came into my classroom.
My best conversations about narrative are always with my husband. But even now, I sometimes tell him I don’t want to analyze what we’re watching, which probably hurts his feelings. I don’t blame him. We did manage to enjoy this anthology’s selection of True Detective, and if you say one word against Vince Vaughn’s performance we can’t be friends anymore. I did have one scuffle with a friend over her inability to appreciate the sad, sweet frosting that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’m not married to her, so I let it go.
But you see how this goes, right? That what we love and share is as close to our hearts as anything can be? And if we love reading, and then must dissect it, masticate it, and regurgitate for others to find the path…then…(don’t worry: I’m going to get to a good place with this).
Another place that’s mine to share when discussing books is a book club one of my dearest friends started. There are several members, mostly NOT teachers, which provides a refreshing place to discuss books. My friend’s turn to choose came up, and she thought a classic would be in order, so she shared her love, Pride and Prejudice. I went through a “Jane Austen” phase in my late 30s, having not read any of her work in high school. I loved them. I got them. And I saw connection after connection between her genuis of writing about social foibles in her time and the relevancy to today. Now, one of my friend’s friends asked her if it was okay to just watch the movie. I don’t blame her. The text was written in 1813, for Elizabeth Bennet’s sake, and it’s hard to make heads or tails out of it.
Take this passage:
“Pride, observed Mary, who who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is…
Austen, Jane (2008-02-11). Pride and Prejudice (Kindle Location 216). Dolphin Books. Kindle Edition.
Translation: This girl likes her own opinions.
We all know this girl. The one who interjects into every conversation her personal wisdom and sage advice.
Am I sure that’s what it means? No. I didn’t look up Sparknotes, or talk about it, or have a scholarly discussion about Jane Austen. I JUST KNOW.
I promised someplace good with this. Some kind of wake for my loss of my reading life. A fête, perhaps.
But here is that slow-burn epiphany: I signed up for this. It doesn’t matter that my inner reading life is no more: I am a teacher now, and all that matters is that I help ease the path for reading, and making meaning, for students. Just like parenting responsibilities, teaching is a biggie. It’s not an avocation or hobby. But unless I get back my own engagement in the conversation with students, it’s going to feel like work. (It did last year, but last year was fraught with a dearth of imagination and abundance of negativity, lack of scope, lack of growth mindset, and just plain bad manners. I can’t abide bad manners.)
But that was last year. This is now. I still love to discuss ideas: ideas from books, movies, graphic novels, politics, media, and world events, past, present and future. As long as I show students that close reading is just a tool to help make reading easier–easier to access the ideas–then it’ll be okay. Close reading, and my internal dialogue and connections with writers’ craft, still delights and engages me, and makes me feel smart and confident. I want my students to share in the same gift.