The purpose of close reading is to suspend personal judgment and examine a text in order to uncover and discover as much information as we can from it.
In close reading we ask not just “what does this passage say?” but also “how does it say it?” and even “what does it not say?” Close reading takes us deeper into the passage, below its surface to the deeper structures of its language, syntax and imagery, then out again to its connections with the whole text as well as other texts, events, and ideas.
• Identify and reflect on major themes in the book.
• Analyze specific details, scenes, actions, and quotations in the text and discuss how they contribute to your interpretation of the meaning of the larger text.
• Extract as much information from a chosen passage of writing as possible.
• Listen to and understand others’ differing (perhaps) interpretations of the same text.
• Generate questions and topics for further inquiry.
Assignment One: A Close Reading
Now that you’ve finished the book, choose a passage from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and compose your own close reading of it. Apply the same techniques to this paper that were applied in in-class close readings and discussions, now taking into account the context of your chosen passage, additional selections from the text, as well as the book as a whole. Following MLA documentation style, correctly cite your chosen passage and any other quotations from the text that support your interpretations and claims. For help with MLA style, go to the Commonwealth College website (www.comcol.umass.edu) and search for “MLA format.”
Organizing your close-reading essay In writing your close-reading essay, you may wish to start by introducing the book and describing your chosen passage’s importance within it. You could then offer relevant details to support your thesis. Questions you raise may appear as part of your conclusion, suggesting avenues for further thought and study.
Paper length Your paper should be 650-750 words long, maximum. Be detailed but concise. Edit out unnecessary words and redundancies. (Include your selected passage in your paper, but do not count it as part of the total length.) A sample close reading essay is available online. Search the Commonwealth College website (www.comcol.umass.edu) for “close reading essay.”
Questions to consider as you prepare to compose your close reading
Examine the passage by itself
• What does this passage explicitly say?
• Is there a meaning beneath or beyond the explicit message? What is it? How is it communicated?
• What might the passage suggest about the writer’s motivations?
• How do the writer’s style, imagery and choice of language create a tone or intensify a meaning?
• What specific examples in the passage (and additional passages) support these observations?
Examine the passage in light of surrounding passages and the rest of the book
• What themes running through the book are evoked explicitly and implicitly in this passage?
• How does this passage fit—or not fit—into its immediate context as well as the book as a whole? What insights into the book does it reveal?
• What questions does the passage raise about the story being told?
• What conclusions can be drawn from this passage about the author and the text?
A note about writing You should consider this paper a final version: pay attention to the quality of your writing and proofread your work. Strive to be concise and clear as well as correct. This means writing in a style that’s both academic and accessible. Always keep your audience in mind. You are writing for your interested peers.
Grading This essay will be worth 15% of your final grade.
Note: You will submit your paper at next week’s class. You will also be asked to summarize your paper and present its main points orally during class discussion. Therefore, you may want to jot down a few “talking points” in preparation.