Stop Close Reading

Students almost universally hate close reading, and they rarely wind up understanding it anyway. Forced to pick out meaning in passages they don’t fully grasp to begin with, they begin to get the idea that English class is about simply making things up (Ah yes–the tree mentioned once on page 89 and then never again stands for weakness and loss!) and constructing increasingly circuitous arguments by way of support. (It’s because it’s an elm, and when you think elm, you think Dutch elm disease, and elms are dying out–sort of like their relationship, see?)

So what would happen if we ditched this sacred teaching technique? —Heather Horn, The Atlantic

Legitimate close readings are supported by the text, not by whatever pops into the reader’s head, so the example Horn gives is hardly a fair example of the technique she intends to critique. The discussion generated by this essay is also interesting… click through and see whether you agree with the person who called me both pedantic and ignorant in the same comment.