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A good response should address one or more issues that are central to understanding the book, but it need not address all such issues.You are approaching the book from one angle, perhaps emphasizing just one theme. I generally assign reading responses to prepare students for discussion classes.In addition to supporting your thesis, you are letting your instructor know how carefully you read. If you write in your essay that you are unconvinced by an author’s assertions about the civility of American politics, you should be ready to raise your hand in class to point to the relevant passage and to ask if your classmates had the same reaction.
Because personal response essays require so much critical thinking and analysis, a well-prepared student will come at the essay as they would any research paper.
Preparation, close reading, outlining and revision are all key steps to writing a well-rounded response.
September 2005 Professors who wish to force students to not only read assigned texts but to think about them as well may assign reading responses.
A reading response is an essay about a book, and like any essay, it must argue a thesis.
The thesis should not be the thesis of the author under review. Most published book reviews are poor models for reading repsonses, since they emphasize summary over analysis, but occasionally a review fits the response form.
Sherry’s essay, “The Triumph of Democratic Capitalism–Without the Democracy and the Capitalism” (review of John Lewis Gaddis, 25 (December 1997) 531-536. was the path to political and economic robustness; that to intimidate or to overmanage was to stifle.” Sherry replies that “although defensible, such claims are maddeningly unexamined.” Sherry does not simply wish that Gaddis had written a different book, for it is Gaddis, not Sherry, who first links domestic politics and foreign policy.In the example, Sherry wants to prove that Gaddis should have paid more attention to race and gender.Using one book from a course to understand a later book in the course makes the course into something more than a collection of discrete texts.Even before you begin reading, you can start thinking critically about the text.Take out a piece of paper and jot down your preconceived notions before you get started.Since the whole class has read the same book, summary is unnecessary.Rather, the response is a chance for you to work out your thoughts about a book on paper, before the discussion itself.Direct quotation is also helpful, also with page numbers.It is especially important to quote when you disagree with an author, as Sherry does when he wants to show that Gaddis, not he, introduces the themes of civility and spontaneity.Yes, Gaddis makes good points about strategy, but he has failed to prove that American statesmen were committed to democratic values.This thesis applauds what is good in Gaddis’s work, and points out a silence that is relevant to Gaddis’s argument.