Critical Response Notebook

We often talk about writer’s notebooks as a place where writers store ideas, experiment with phrasing and wordings, or generally muck about in the art of writing. I want to do something similar this semester with your reading experiences, especially given the amount and the breadth of reading you’ll be asked to do. I hesitate to impose strict guidelines on something like this for fear of reducing its usefulness in so doing, so I’ll try to be loose in describing what I want it to be.

You should make regular entries in the form of a critical response to the readings we do this semester. I recognize that not every book you read will elicit the kind of response that will inspire a critical response; of the 20 total responses I expect, write ten in response to the required texts assigned for the semester and at least ten entries for elective novels.

You should not see these notebook entries as a pure exercises in “reader response,” although there is validity to your personal response and I see that as an important starting point. In general, I’d like your entries to be more focused and critical, exploring larger trends in the literature we’re reading, asking important questions about the books you’re reading, and engaging in literary analysis of the books. I have devised some prompts (and will continue to do so as the semester unfolds) that can inspire you or give you a seed from which to start if you’re struggling to know what to write about. I encourage you to consider a prompt or two before you start reading and to jot down notes in the journal as you read rather than waiting until you’ve finished to explicitly consider what you might write. Ideally, you’d have an entry for the required text prepared before class starts, but I won’t be checking for this; I understand that sometimes your response to a book will be enhanced by verbal discussion with peers.

I would encourage you to also use this notebook as a place to record ideas about the keyword you’re studying over the course of the semester and the way you see that keyword (or a related concept) playing out in the books you’re reading and discussing. Since at least three of the elective books you read should be related to your keyword study, it makes sense to record some responses to those books in the context of your keyword study.

The form that this notebook takes is unimportant (i.e., digital or print), but you should have it with you in class every session; this will allow you to refer to it as we discuss and to make notes of things that occur to you during class. I will, in fact, ask that you make use of these notebooks occasionally as we discuss the literature we’re reading.