Summer Reading

Monday, June 26, 2017
Summer reading...I love to think of the stack of books that would steadily shrink as the days got longer. Then I had kids. Of course, it wasn't too bad in the beginning. I snuck in a few books while waiting poolside at swimming lessons, while the kids were at day camp, while dad was constructing a bonfire for the marshmallows they would burn to a crisp and I would end up eating. Then came summer reading. THEIR summer reading. They would come home on the last day of school with a list of books to read before the fall. Happily, my kids liked to read and we schlepped to the library each week for the summer reading program and to choose new books.

That's the catch with summer reading assigned by the school. They don't get to choose the books and they are often not the books they would normally read. So they would plow through them, complaining all the way. The reading usually goes hand in hand with a project: a book report, a journal, an essay, an art representation. This year my soon to be high school freshman is reading a book that -- after reading an excerpt in sixth grade -- he is sure he won't like. On top of that he isn't an enthusiastic reader. So, with me has his cheerleader/grumpy boss he begins his reading and chapter by chapter journal.

I'm relieved that he has a lot to say (mostly negative) about the first chapter. After blurting it all out to me over dinner, he decides what he will write in his journal and we're off and running. And so it goes, read one chapter, grumble about it over dinner, write a journal entry and the next day start over again.

As I re-read his entries I learn that he has much more detailed critiques of this book than he ever did before. In the past his ratings of books were restricted to okay (accompanied by a shoulder shrug), funny or lame. Now he's writing exactly what he thinks is okay, funny or lame -- along with plenty of other reactions. In fact, his critique is a lot more detailed than some I received from adults for a novel I'm writing.

After all, when do readers write a critique? I imagine most wait until they've completed reading the entire thing. By then many details have blurred leaving just a negative or positive feeling. "I liked the dialogue." Oh, you want specific examples of the dialogue I like? Some of the situations felt forced. Which ones? Let me think...

Imagine if you were feeding your novel to your beta readers one chapter at a time. You could get a chapter by chapter reaction to the novel and pinpoint where they liked/disliked characters, where they were bored, what plot lines surprised them/they saw coming. Not only that, but I feel like readers would be willing to take on a critique if they saw it as one chapter at a time, rather than an entire 200+ page book.

Maybe critiquing is better chapter by chapter -- whether you're critiquing for a friend or asking a friend to critique for you. This is what I learned from my son's summer reading journal. I just hope he learned something because there's an essay on the first day of school!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Jodi--I can see the value of a chapter-by-chapter critique as long as the next chapter comes immediately after the reader is finished with the previous one.

I say that because I'd want my beta reader to be able to read the whole thing--like a reader reading a library book or a book bought in a bookstore. I'd want them to be able to see the whole story arc and the all the threads that run through the story, rather than getting it in disjointed chunks.

However, I can also see the value of a beta reader viewing each chapter as a stand-alone piece. What do they predict will happen next? What questions do they want answered? What holes are there? In this way, the writer can revise as the chapters are being finished.

Good luck. Boys are tough, sometimes, when it comes to getting them to read. My son loved "Enders Game" and "The Power of One" at that age...

Margo Dill said...

My critique group does 30 pages at a time--so far that has worked for us!

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