For the last decade, I’ve spent my working days thinking and talking about stories. From the great classics to brand new science fiction and fantasy, I’ve explored the literary landscape to discover how stories do what they do, and how writers might harness that magic — and of course, I’ve produced a lot of podcasts!
But the ability to see through the text of a story to the underlying structure, themes and conflicts is not easily learned, and is not commonly taught. Too often, our high school and college literature classes teach us to approach books as though they are puzzles to be solved, as though there is a single meaning contained within each text, as though the movement of the story doesn’t really matter, and the metaphors are there only to be picked apart, deconstructed and left in pieces. This traditional approach to critical reading can leave many people cold — but worse still, it drains the joy out of wonderful, magical stories, and leaves them flat on the page.
In this Critical Reading class, I will teach you my approaches to understanding, analyzing, critiquing and celebrating fiction. Over the course of four weeks, we’ll examine the basics of critical reading, the analysis of poetry, short stories and novels, the functions and purposes of analogy and allegory, the power of symbols, metaphorical language and the intent of both the text and the author. You’ll leave the class with a set of critical skills and a specific vocabulary that will allow you to think and talk critically and positively about literature and popular culture.
While the class has a focus on the written word, the skills that you will learn will also be applicable to other media, from prestige television to blockbuster movies. The analytical strategies and techniques that you will learn will also serve you in everyday life, as you weigh the intent and efficacy of argument and rhetoric, and add to your own ability to leverage metaphor. The real goal of the class, however, is to make you a more confident and insightful reader, and to allow you to really understand the stories which matter the most to you.
The Critical Reading class doesn’t presume any special knowledge or previous study; no matter your level of experience or education, the approach discussed in this class will be accessible, approachable and powerful. Each week, we’ll gather together for a two-hour live discussion; in advance of each live session, there will be assigned readings and some sample questions to consider. This class is not intended to simply break down some classic texts; it’s designed to equip you with the skills you need for a lifetime of exploration and discovery.
The syllabus breaks down like this:
- Session 1
- Texts: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, What Kind Of Times Are These by Adrienne Rich, Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats, A Musical Instrument by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Introduction to the written word
- Vocabulary and definitions
- Metaphor and imagery
- Poetic analysis
- Session 2
- Texts: The Story Of An Hour by Kate Chopin, Leaf By Niggle by JRR Tolkien, Symbols And Signs by Vladimir Nabokov
- Prose forms and structure
- Short-form thematic analysis
- Perspective and irony
- Short story analysis
- Session 3
- Texts: Bartleby The Scrivener by Herman Melville, Runaway by Alice Munro
- Introduction to literary theory
- Long-form thematic analysis
- Conflict and structure
- Novel analysis
- Session 4
- Text: The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes
- Advanced literary theory
- Additional vocabulary
- Pacing, tension and the dynamics of fiction
- Structuralist analysis
The full text list will be available in advance, so you’ll have lots of time to catch up with the reading. After each live session, you’ll receive a downloadable packet, including the video and audio versions of the lectures, accompanying notes and slides, and my personal responses to the assignment questions. I’ll also be available via email between the sessions, to help answer any questions which might arise, and I’ll set up a private Discord chat server for students, so you can interact with each other and with me between classes!
Critical Reading is a completely unique class, and will provide you with all the necessary skills and strategies to understand stories and storytelling. If you have a podcast, a blog, a book group, or just a keen interest in fiction — and particularly if you’re a writer — then don’t miss this comprehensive introduction to the art of reading critically.
This downloadable version of the class includes audio and video versions of the lecture, along with notes and a transcript of the key points. Those files are DRM free, and you’ll be able to keep them, watch or listen to them as often as you like, and copy them to any computer or device that you own.
To buy the class, click the button below!
Critical Reading: Exploring, Understanding and Analyzing Fiction