I write business documents for a living and spend most of my time either figuring out what people want to say and what they mean, or putting their thoughts into words. To allow me to do this well, I spend a great deal of time doing “close reading”.
The practice of close reading as an academic exercise emerged during the early and middle decades of the 20th century as part of a scholarly approach known as New Criticism. The single most important skill of a student and user of language is the ability to close read a text. Through close reading, one can demonstrate understanding of a literary work, analyse the use of language, frame discussions and arguments, and express interpretations, impressions, hypotheses and responses.
The ability to come up with readings of literary texts, and to write about these with detailed precision, are essential critical skills. Most of the 70+ book reviews reproduced here were written for Fairlady magazine, a South African national women's magazine.
As well as honing my analytical skills, producing the reviews improved my writing skills, because, no matter what my thoughts on a book, I had - with some exceptions - to express them in no more than 125 words. What this meant was that I had to do a critical or close reading, and then reduce the write-up to the required length, without losing the essential elements - somewhat of a process of redaction.
The result of some five years of doing is collected in this pocket-sized reference.