It seems like every year around this time I find myself way behind in my journal reading: something about the spring, I guess. But recently I’ve had a chance to begin catching up, thanks to some long cross-country flights. Two issues of College English kept me busy and thinking hard: every essay had good lessons to teach, and I came away from these two issues admiring the current work in our field as well as the editors of CE.
The January 2018 issue featured compelling essays by Abby Dubisar (on MADD and activism), Crystal Colombini (on hardship letters and the politics of genre), Kim Owens (a fascinating look at the ethnic studies classes that were outlawed in Arizona), and Lois Agnew (on “cancer wars” in the U.S. from 1920 to 1980). These essays led me to reflect on how I was reading them and how my reading practices (or habits) shift according to how engaged I am, what my preconceptions and biases are, and what I already know about the topic.
And these reflections set me up for the review in this issue, Kelly Blewett’s “In Defense of Unruliness: Five Books on Reading.” I love the notion of “unruly” reading, taken from Mariolina Salvatori and Patrick Donahue’s Stories about Reading. In their discussion, they reject the “students can't read” and “reading is a problem” arguments in favor of acknowledging that “students have capacities and abilities we have yet to pay adequate attention to.” So in spite of the doom and gloom reports that say students can’t read proficiently and that pleasure reading is “dead,” what I see around me is quite different. Students today are reading constantly, on all manner of devices, and they are writing up a storm as well. It’s just that the kinds of reading they are doing doesn’t seem to “count” for many people, which is just more proof that we aren’t yet paying adequate attention to what young people are actually doing.
Blewett takes this approach in reviewing five very different books on reading, which “collectively bring to composition studies a reclamation of the complex and elusive nature of reading which is surprise-provoking, possible, self-reflexive, and interperetive.” This review sent me looking for books I hadn’t heard of, like Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read, “a book comprising words and images that explores how readers visualize prose” and offers insights about the mysterious and always partial nature of reading. Certainly this review is worth reading, and re-reading, so that’s part of my recommended reading.
The most recent issue of College English (March, 2018) contains only three essays, but all three were fascinating to me. Chris Mays’s essay on creative nonfiction and the controversy over how much such work must adhere to the “truth” is thorough and thoroughly provocative. Bethany Mannon’s piece on three ways of looking at and engaging with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project renewed my commitment to what Maria Lugones calls “world traveling,” and showed how digital storytelling projects can further that goal. And Cynthia Lewis’s report on a course she teaches on “Radio Shakespeare” took me inside the experience she and her students had as they prepared The Merchant of Venice for broadcast: just learning about the logistics involved—from voice coaching and use of special sound effects to the intricacies of interactions among members of the cast—left me wanting to be part of such a class myself.
All this reading has also left me wondering what more I can do to bring active, engaged, delightful, unruly reading into more classrooms. I’d very much like to hear from those who have ways of doing so. Leave a comment below!
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