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Old 10-13-2011, 01:08 PM   #76
ApK
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I would argue that, as one writer put it, he put those words in that order for a reason.
Certainly there is not always layers of considered meaning in every word and phrase, but every word and phrase does evoke something, intended or not.
Even if the writer didn't mean to evoke images of Adam and Eve, or autumn, or, Newtonian physics, in the choice of an apple, if it touches readers in those ways, that's what separates 'writing' as an art form from, say, the machine-translations of a Korean instruction manual.
I think discussing and considering and exploring the evocations associated with that choice of eating an apple has value. Even if you happen to be right, and the author randomly picked the first fruit he saw.


The choice of a single word makes me think of Cor van den Heuvel's haiku "Tundra" consisting of the single word "tundra" on a blank page. Who knows how he first encountered the word, how mundane the context, but put it apparently said a lot to him, and he decided he could say a lot with it.
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Old 10-13-2011, 02:50 PM   #77
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I would argue that, as one writer put it, he put those words in that order for a reason.
Certainly there is not always layers of considered meaning in every word and phrase, but every word and phrase does evoke something, intended or not.
Even if the writer didn't mean to evoke images of Adam and Eve, or autumn, or, Newtonian physics, in the choice of an apple, if it touches readers in those ways, that's what separates 'writing' as an art form from, say, the machine-translations of a Korean instruction manual.
I think discussing and considering and exploring the evocations associated with that choice of eating an apple has value. Even if you happen to be right, and the author randomly picked the first fruit he saw.
Some choices are of course deliberate; others are probably the author's subconscious at work. Something made him or her think that apple was the correct and only choice in that particular passage. And I do think it can be interesting to look at how certain elements contribute to the story in ways that the author may not even have been consciously aware of.

But this is not what I wanted to do in high school. I wanted to read the book, discuss the grand themes and the plot and the character motivations, not get bogged down in the minutiae. That can come later if a book is worthy of further study. But just let kids read the book and get the overall experience first, not have to pick it apart ad nauseam.
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Old 10-13-2011, 03:17 PM   #78
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Catlady, schools do have summer reading lists, and library periods and study halls, but the time in class is supposed to be spend doing something a bit more guided and structured. Anyway, if everyone got to do what they wanted, it would be called schoolplay instead of schoolwork.
In any case, in MY high school. we were almost always expected to 'just read the book' first, then discuss it, especially with shorter works, then discuss it...or more often, write a book report.
For every kid who would have been happier being left to read the book, there is at least one who would not bother to look at, and would do the book report based on the back flap material*. Some people need to be guided through a chapter at a time.

Perhaps, the approach they take is the worst possible approach, except for all the others....

ApK

*ok, that was usually, me.
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Old 10-13-2011, 06:27 PM   #79
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Catlady, schools do have summer reading lists, and library periods and study halls, but the time in class is supposed to be spend doing something a bit more guided and structured. Anyway, if everyone got to do what they wanted, it would be called schoolplay instead of schoolwork.
In any case, in MY high school. we were almost always expected to 'just read the book' first, then discuss it, especially with shorter works, then discuss it...or more often, write a book report.
For every kid who would have been happier being left to read the book, there is at least one who would not bother to look at, and would do the book report based on the back flap material*. Some people need to be guided through a chapter at a time.

Perhaps, the approach they take is the worst possible approach, except for all the others....

ApK

*ok, that was usually, me.

I said the books should be discussed, but not minutiae. Whether someone is eating an apple or an orange in a 100,000-word novel is most likely insignificant.
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Old 10-13-2011, 06:45 PM   #80
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I said the books should be discussed, but not minutiae. Whether someone is eating an apple or an orange in a 100,000-word novel is most likely insignificant.
... unless she's called Eve.
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Old 10-13-2011, 07:21 PM   #81
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... unless she's called Eve.
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Old 10-13-2011, 10:45 PM   #82
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Great points Catlady and Nancy, I really get irked by folk trying to read subtexts into the writer's mood/feeling/message when they wrote a book or poem or play.

I am a phillistine, and believe if you like it then don't worry about what 'message' it sends or was meant to convey - just bloody enjoy it!
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Old 10-13-2011, 11:04 PM   #83
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C.S. Lewis has a great quote somewhere about how people are always reading meanings into his work that he never intended.
My favorite is Gwendolyn Brooks on a questionable analysis of her poem "We Real Cool". She actually muses about the varied meaning that people find in her words, particularly that people (with dirty minds) apparently like to read the word "Jazz" as being a sexual reference (I don't see it, but my 8th graders often do... on their own, mind you). Listen to the audio at the link for her take.

My problem always is with the idea that there's a "right" answer to interpretations*. Sure, there are "defensible" answers and "indefensible" answers. Yours need to be in the first category for credit. But, if you can defend an interpretation that is different for mine, great!

And, no, we don't analyze every word to death. But, for example, the landlady's reference to Eve and the Apple in Flowers for Algernon is a very powerful allusion and neglecting to discuss it would be a shame.

* Although, sometimes, I wish there were such clear-cut answers. I am often jealous of math teachers.
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Old 10-13-2011, 11:12 PM   #84
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Great points Catlady and Nancy, I really get irked by folk trying to read subtexts into the writer's mood/feeling/message when they wrote a book or poem or play.

I am a phillistine, and believe if you like it then don't worry about what 'message' it sends or was meant to convey - just bloody enjoy it!
Don't you believe that critical thinking is an important part of education? I mean, if it's all about enjoyment, then... well... we may as well get rid of all classes but P.E. in middle school.
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Old 10-14-2011, 12:28 AM   #85
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Don't you believe that critical thinking is an important part of education? I mean, if it's all about enjoyment, then... well... we may as well get rid of all classes but P.E. in middle school.
One more time--some of us are objecting to the excruciating levels of analysis, not to any and all discussion and evaluation of the work being read. It serves no purpose other than to make reading boring, and I doubt that's the goal.
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Old 10-14-2011, 12:53 AM   #86
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Don't you believe that critical thinking is an important part of education? I mean, if it's all about enjoyment, then... well... we may as well get rid of all classes but P.E. in middle school.
Critical thinking yes, but to make people believe that all works of literature have to be 'interrogated' makes it very tiresome and certainly put me off reading some of the 'classics' in the day.

I get a real kick out of watching my niece read for 'fun' and hope that this is not lost when she has to critique every comma, semi colon and phrase like most schools did in my day, let alone determine whether the author was happy/sad/deepressed/gay/homophobic/left wing/right wing/racist/feminist et al during the creation of the piece.

(FWIW: I hated PE, well I hated gym....big boned and clumsy.... )
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Old 10-14-2011, 08:30 AM   #87
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Schools attempt to expose children to a cross-section to hopefully find stuff that they like that they wouldn't have picked up otherwise. The book you dreaded reading is perhaps the same book that launched the kid in the next row on a life long love of reading. And they are apparently making reading, and many things, more interesting than when I was a kid. My kids come home singing about their spelling words...I HATED spelling.
I, personally, never had a problem with books assigned either at the high school or university level. Some kids do. My suggestion - and I'm not a language teacher - would be to offer choices within a given genre. This is a problem in the old pBook environment, but should be opened up significantly with eBook availability.

I have always loved reading. My wife grew up out in the isolated sand hills of western Texas and books were her replacement for neighbor kids to play with. But some kids don't like to read and I have some ADD and ADHD nephews in the family who never could sit still long enough to read much of anything as children. Somehow you have to try to find something to capture their interest that is, at the same time, of some cultural, literary value. It's not easy.

Metaphorical issues - yes, I agree that many books are over-analyzed. We each see through our own lenses shaped by education, training and experience and we tend to see what we want to see. As an adult, I attend two library reading groups because it gives me an assigned book to read from lists generally regarded as "good literature" that I often would never think to read. That follows up with a group discussion of what others saw in the book. Sometimes I miss things with which I agree; sometimes I think the analysis goes a bit too far.

We can ask living authors what they meant. But then, how many authors are honest enough to downplay the complexity and metaphorical imagery that readers see in their works. It's flattering to be though of as more cerebral than you really are, and it can help sales as well. On the plus side, good authors leave imagery to the mind of the reader - which is perhaps why movies made from books seldom excite readers who have developed their own imagery.
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Old 10-14-2011, 08:53 AM   #88
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It depends on the level at which the reading is done. For very young children, the technicalities of reading, spelling and so on may be important, but I think they should be introduced to reading for pleasure as soon as possible, even if they are reading undemanding books below their nominal reading age.

But I don't see why reading for pleasure can't sit side by side with deeper analysis of specified works.

I never stopped reading for pleasure, but when I was doing A-level English not only were the teacher's requirements much more demanding but I don't think that at that time I would have dreamt of tackling, say, Chaucer without quite bit of help and guidance, But once I'd been forced to do the set book of Chaucer, I went on to read with great interest other bits of Chaucer and also to try Piers Ploughman, Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte d'Arthur on my own. It was harder doing it without a teacher, and I can't say I have great expertise in Middle English, but the experience of being made to study some Chaucer opened up a great deal of literature to me that I probably would never have accessed unless in modern translation.

Reading works in the original language adds an extra dimension to them. I wish I had been able to learn Ancient Greek when I was at school, because I would love to read the great Greek classics without translation.
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Old 10-14-2011, 09:44 AM   #89
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One more time--some of us are objecting to the excruciating levels of analysis, not to any and all discussion and evaluation of the work being read. It serves no purpose other than to make reading boring, and I doubt that's the goal.
Did you read what I quoted? The poster basically questioned any discussion of author's message and theme! I mean, sure, let's keep the microscopes out of it, but that doesn't mean that we can't do anything beyond "enjoy" reading. After all, if it's done right, analysis really can contribute to enjoyment.

There needs to be balance, and the post I was replying to was definitely not advocating any balance.
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Old 10-14-2011, 09:46 AM   #90
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But I don't see why reading for pleasure can't sit side by side with deeper analysis of specified works.
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