ENGL 1102: Reading Practices and Comprehensive Depth

I wrote this essay last year as an ENGL 1102 assignment, and as it seems a waste not to put my old essays to some use, I will be starting a series that pulls from my more interesting assignments. Not too much red ink please, or I may relapse into essay revision stress disorder!

Reading Practices and Their Relationship to Comprehensive Depth

Inevitably, the method or procedure through which reading comprehension is accomplished directly affects its retention and inward understanding. Additionally, depending on the context, the audience may strive for particular excellence in certain aspects while ignoring others. Obviously the purpose of reading will consequently determine the manner in which the composition is approached and noted. Multiple generic instances of this variability present themselves as prime candidates for observation.

First, consider the average student gleaning through his textbook — he is hardly concerned with insightful comprehension of the text’s material, much less the circumstances or alterior influences which altered the textbook’s content. His primary concern is locating the pertinent facts, opinions, dates, definitions, or names, and commiting them to memory. While he may gain an elementary understanding of the book’s context, his lack of enthusiasm or incentive to appreciate more than bullet points reduces the book’s overall effectiveness in encouraging its propaganda. Thus, such a scenario equates more to ‘managing information’ rather than comprehending the overall ‘truth’ of the work.

Another notable example could be that of rhetorical essays, whose inherent detail is entrenched in rich, but altogether difficult vocabulary. In such cases, the author approaches the essay with the singular purpose of communicating a truth, which can only be understood at depth an incomprehensive skim could not afford. Sven Birkert’s essay, entitled ‘The Owl has Flown,’ serves as a prime example of rhetorically significant composition. Birkert argues that the reading audience has progressed from narrow, in-depth comprehension of literary works to broad, superficial understanding. While the essay cites historical instances as its support, his primary purpose is to argue the progression of reading practices — therefore, the important ‘truth’ behind his essay can only be comprehended through the process of thought, discourse, and brief analyzation. This instance is therefore rooted in comprehension, rather than memorizing facts, and is remembered as an entire or generically communicated concept.

The typical novel serves well as an instance of purely pleasureful motives. One might peruse the classic The Lord of the Rings with the primary object of passing the time enjoyably — in such circumstances the reader intends to glean the general mood and plot as it is expressed over a span of a couple thousand pages; there is little, if any, need to analyze the events or background to the same degree as a rhetorical essay: not only is the ‘truth’ stretched out in detail gradually, but relevant facts are steadily enforced through repetition. In summary, novels are read with the purpose of enjoyment, but are written in such a way that they communicate both relevant ‘truth’ and pertinent facts over lengthy spans.

The manner in which the classic literary works are approached largely depends upon the purpose that drives their observation, the type of work, and general scholarly proclivities the reader may or may not possess. An educational resource is read primarily for the express purpose of factual information, rather than an overall theme or ‘truth.’ In direct contrast, the strength in a rhetorical essay is primarily the overall truth it establishes, and merely uses facts as a method of support. Finally, the novel most often entertains and engages the reader, but demands little logical incentive on his part. There are several additional forms of literary works, such as instructional, Scriptural, and counsel-oriented — however, they are all elastically defined, and the method of reading practiced cannot be fixed to the work’s genre.