Text Analysis as Conversation

A while back, I was working through some notes that included margin notes I’d made in books, and it got me thinking. When we’re in school, English teachers have us engage in close reading, or text analysis, to more closely consider the text. They often then follow up with that dreaded question, “What was the author trying to say? Why did the author choose this word, this element, this shade of green?” Sometimes, the author is trying to make some sort of metaphorical statement. Sometimes, they just really liked that shade of green.

But being asked to find meaning where it may or may not be kind of leaves you with this feeling that text analysis is a torture device invented by English teachers. (Sadly, we math teachers don’t get to have all the fun.)

What I think English teachers are really asking us to do, mainly because I’ve heard so many writers explain how they use close reading in their own work, is to learn to question the text. Sometimes, that question is, “What was the author really trying to say here? What does this foreshadow? How does this reflect the author’s time and life?”

Sometimes, though, that question is, “What does this mean to me? Why did this catch my attention?” And then the text analysis becomes a personal conversation with the book, giving it a deeper personal meaning and giving it permission to inspire and influence you. When you talk about a book that has stayed with you for years, that’s deeply affected you, what you’re then really saying is, “This is a book I had a great conversation with.”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Do you feel that you converse with books through your highlights, your margin notes, your clippings? What books have you conversed with?

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