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What is a Close Reading?

To prepare for the close reading series, I thought it would be helpful to outline my process when practicing close readings. This is a method used in theological learning to notice aspects of certain works of literature. My personal process is similar from the common practice of close reading, but with a few differences that makes the process tailored to me.

If you'd like to look at a more standardized way of doing a close reading, please check out this article from the Harvard Writing Center:

My first process is a read-through. This is not recommended when you have a limited time to do a close reading. What I aim to do with first read through is not to apply any elements of close reading to a piece of written work. It helps me to imagine how a piece of literature is intended to be received by someone who is not deliberately trying to analyze the work in a technical or critical sense.

Then I would move to a reflection period, where I jot down overarching themes and ideas.

On the second read through, I will be looking for keywords or phrases that stand out.

The things that I would note are:

  • Things that are significant (i.e. main points, important information, etc.)

  • Things that are surprising.

  • Things that force me to pause.

  • Things that raises questions.

  • Is there missing information.

When I have this information, I'll begin to look for patterns in the piece of writing. My mind tends to focus on literary elements like imagery, linguistic features, style of writing, and words, but close readings tend to focus on differences, similarities, and repetition.

When the patterns becomes clear, and thoroughly defended, we ask the essential questions:

  • How can this be?

  • Why is this so?

We can posit all sorts of answers, but we need to hold on to the idea that the author is not in the room and cannot answer them, which can leave a tension, but we can always replace that tension, praise, and judgement with wonder and curiosity; remembering that answers are not as important as asking the right question.

So let's jump in!

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