I wanted to drop out of my graduate English program after only three weeks into my first class, Development of the Novel. I was the only one in the class pursuing the double master’s track and I gave that decision serious reconsideration because I was the only one in the class who didn’t know how to read.
I understood the writing in Don Quioxte and Clarissa and The Good Soldier, but I wasn’t “getting it” the way the other students did. I’d listen to them discuss characters, motivations, symbolism and metaphor and mentally throw up my hands. I didn’t know how to read critically. I only knew how to read for fun. When I approached the professor with a drop slip and told him why I was leaving the class, he told me to stick with it and consider reading “between the lines” and not “on the surface of the page.”
I was reminded of this academic turning point in my life while reading Writing Reviews for Readers’ Advisory by Brad Hooper. In this slim volume Hooper covers the differences between criticism and reviews, pre-publication reviews and post publication reviews, and how reviews can be used in different ways for different readers and library programs. I thought about how I use reviews for collection development, book talking, and especially book groups.
I also realized that the questions Hooper asks in order to write a good review are good topics for discussion. Keeping these questions in mind while I read a book for future discussion or review remind me there can be a purpose beyond simple enjoyment of a book (NOTE: there’s nothing wrong with that at all) and helps me look for the most tasty bits to bring to the attention of the book group members when we get together.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of just showing up for a book group having read the book but not having thought about it. Or believing that the thought will take place while answering a question. In this way, I hope I’m helping book group members become more observant and critical readers and at the same time, I remind myself to keep reading with my mind as well as my eyes.