Close Encounters of the Literary Kind

We have been formally introduced to close reading, which Sam Kelly helpfully defined for me as ‘reading as a writer’. I have always read for the story, what happens next, the unfolding of events; the emotions of the drama and excitement, and a personal favourite – the whodunnit. Now I am learning to look at the structure of the writing, picking out themes and loose threads which you can  follow throughout the text, length of sentences, multiple meanings, repeated words, metaphors, similes – the list goes ever on.

In class we looked at a short story by David Foster Wallace, Incarnations of Burned Children, which I also found online in Esquire magazine when I was researching the author. I started my close reading by trying to hold on to my emotional response to the story and revisiting the text to seek the ‘how’.

I love this idea of looking past the story to the writing or the ‘code’, and am excited to explore the concept of an exchange between reader and work. I will always close read a manual or a study related text, but fiction I have always read for the pure pleasure of the story and it has never crossed my mind that there may be something more.

Sam told us when close reading to be aware of something that ‘snags your eye’, which I love because apart from the tangible object of ‘a book’, ‘the story’ has never before had physical form for me. Now I learn that like a sharp corner, or Old Man Willow, something may reach out and snag me. Such danger! How exciting!

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