Authors: Amy Wall and Regina Wall
How often have we heard the statement that someone is a prolific reader or that he or she is well-read? At first this may impress us, however, when you think about it, you have to ask how much these individuals retain and what are they getting out of their reading? As Amy Wall and Regina Wall point out in The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Critical Reading, there is a difference between being well read and knowing how to read well. What counts is not quantity but rather the quality of your reading.
As mentioned, one of the principal ingredients of critical reading is the ability to effectively analyze what you are reading, which entails questioning and thinking about the material in front of you. It is taking an active role rather than merely passively accepting words on a page-something that unfortunately many of us were not taught while we were students.
Amy Wall is a writer and poet by night, and a TV news producers and newsroom manager by day. She has authored many instruction books and has published her poetry in an online literary journal. Regina Wall is currently a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. She began her career as a writing teacher at Michigan State University and eventually became a professor of Literature, Humanities and Women’s Studies at Vanier College in Montreal, Canada. Together, they have teamed up to produce a manual that grabs you from page one, holding you captive until the very last page.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Critical Reading strikes just the right tone: direct, upbeat and accessible. The authors have taken pains not to sound preachy, while at the same time providing readers with dozens of pointers that provide tools and maps in helping us understand fiction and non-fiction. We are shown how to become relentlessly inquisitive about any book we have chosen to read from the moment we commence its reading until the last chapter.
Divided into twenty-one chapters, the Walls impart readers with informative and interesting detailed chapters on developing a critical eye towards reading different types of fiction and non-fiction literature. Each section takes on an A to Z approach with its uniform distribution of information wherein readers receive tutorial guidance as to how to become skilled at reading poetry, history, historical fiction, science, philosophy, essays and memoirs, newspapers, magazines, short stories, plays, understanding why an author tells a story in a particular way, literary techniques, and how to connect the dots in making sense of what you are reading.
For example, if you refer to the chapter “Developing Your Critical Eye,” we are given in depth instruction as to how to understand the facts an author presents in a work of non-fiction. Is the author expressing an opinion or is he or she interpreting the facts. Is there some kind of bias in the writing and how does the author’s perspective compare against what we already know or believe.
Ending each chapter, the authors provide a summation of the basic principles expounded upon and what is the least you should know. Moreover, the text is enlivened with user-friendly side-bars and concrete examples taken from well-known fiction and nonfiction books as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and several others.
Finishing up in perhaps true academic fashion, the manual provides chapters testing our knowledge of fiction and nonfiction. It is here where you are taught to connect the various pieces of writing to each other. Also included is a comprehensive recommended reading list pointing the way for readers to track down must read novels and non-fiction and a helpful glossary. This is a “keeper” book and one that you will constantly refer to when assessing the quality of a book you have read.
Norm Goldman is editor of the book reviewing and author interviewing site http://www.bookpleasures.com and the travel site http://www.sketchandtravel.com
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