Hey Reader, What’s Your Angle?

Probably the most influential and impactive course I took during my college years (and for me, “college years” do not mean four coming-out-years of raucous partying and occasional studying, it means thirteen long and tedious years of night school, transferring to this college or that college depending on where the military assigned me, and all of which were completely dependent upon the sacrifice and commitment from my lovely and loving wife) was a Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism (or something to that effect) course while attending Tidewater Community College in Chesapeake, Virginia, oh so long ago.

It was this course, taught by an instructor mild in manner but powerful in purpose and ability whose name I sadly cannot remember, in which I was instructed and inspired to become an active reader — a reader who brings to a book not just a desire to be entertained, but desires to seek within the work deeper and hidden meanings, as well as to impose upon the work a personal agenda.

I quickly learned that being an active reader by itself takes more than a little bit of effort; but being an active reader with an angle, so to speak, is an exhaustive work out.

No really… thinking burns significant calories, my friend. Ergo, the harder you think, the more calories you burn, ergo once more… the more exhaustive – and rewarding – workout you have. Don’t believe me ask the Google God.


If you aren’t aware, I happen to be an excessively white, less-than-excessively (nowadays, anyway) WASPy kind of dude who was socialized as a youth in and by an excessively white and WASPy home, church, school, television, books, etc. kind of way. And one thing about us white, WASPy dudes — and if you are not a white, WASPy dude you probably understand this much better than we ever will — is that we have a very strong tendency to see the world through rose-colored glasses.

I mean, come on, the industrialized world we now live in pretty much has grown out of the minds of past and present white, WASPy dudes so why wouldn’t all the rest of us white, WASPy dudes think all life is just grand and peachy keen, right?

Anyway… we can have a much longer discussion about the pros and cons of white, WASPy worldviews later, but the point about it here is, when it came to being an active reader with an agenda, well, I just didn’t have one to inherently apply to the literature I was reading, since most of the literature I was reading came from the minds of those with worldviews similar to mine.

Can you dig?

Which is why the book the course was based upon was so important to the success of the class, and why, even today, it continues to be so important to me.

This is the 5th Edition. My copy of the book is an old, beat up 2nd Edition

Long story short – kind of: The book provides a survey of all the major schools of literary criticism and the coursework involved reading short stories and having to critique them by applying the various critical schools. This, of course, meant that yours truly here had to think, read, and react to the work not like a staid white, WASPy dude that I was and, much to much of the world’s dismay, still am, but as a Deconstructionist, or, gasp, a Marxist or even, deeper gasp… a Feminist!

Needless to say, I survived the severe disruption to my cozy worldview. But I didn’t just survive it, I thrived from it. It really opened my eyes to all the many ways – good and not so good – works of literature can and are interpreted and understood by those with worldviews quite dissimilar to mine.

I’ve come to find that life is much more thoughtful and clear and understanding once those rose-colored glasses were removed and seen as others without them see it.


So, I ask you, Dear Reader, what’s your angle?

Are you an active reader?

Do you bring an agenda to a body of literary work when reading it?

My guess is most of us don’t because being an active reader is tough work.

Even though I intend to go into a body of work with purpose, I more often than not find myself being a “casual reader,” a reader easily lured into passivity by the cozy confines of verisimilitude, until I’m wrapped up – held hostage – by the telling of a good story. And once I finally am able to break free from the stories grasp, I’ll have to go back and try once again to read critically what I had just read mindlessly.

As Kurt Vonnegut so wisely, and often, said: So it goes…

However, if you, Dear Reader, are an active reader with an agenda, or even if you are not, I’d like to know about it. Drop me a line in the comment section and let me know about your reading strategy, or lack thereof.

And if you are a book reviewer with an agenda, please provide links to some of your work. I would love to read it and, perhaps, reblog it here to share with others.


Write [and Read] on!


54 Replies to “Hey Reader, What’s Your Angle?”

  1. I usually try find a story in a completely different genre to the last one i read. Currently, I’m reading Giles Kristians viking novel ‘God of Vengeance’. This the 4th of his books in the Raven series. This was after a vampire story. Next I’m thinking crime or romance. It’s not much of strategy but it’s get me through my book list. Keeps things interesting. Good article as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmmm. I read for pleasure and to see how other writers employ the ‘art’ of word-smithing. I read poetry for tips on how to write description, I read classics to increase my writing vocabulary…there is very little I read just for the sake of reading. Does that count as having an agenda? Thanks for the thought provocation :-).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Good ol’ TCC. I went to the Virginia Beach campus back in the 90’s, where I also learned to be an “active reader”. But it depends on what I’m reading of course. Mind candy deserves to be eaten up quickly without thinking about the wheres, whys, and hows of what the author “meant” when they wrote it. Otherwise, yeah, I can delve as deep into the text as the next person. Having grown up poor white trash, I tend more towards a Marxist bent than most, but I try to keep an open mind. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was a bane to my English professors. I often questioned their interpretations of the texts. Sometimes, the curtains are just blue (as the cartoon goes). I went on to get my Master’s in English… because… English! Still a bane to my professors though. Ha!

        We might have had the same instructor as several of mine commuted between campus and I took every English Lit class they offered. One was even in an accident coming from the Chesapeake campus to our class. Mr. Kunsinger I think his name was.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I was only able to take a few courses while I was stationed there – my duties got reassigned and my shore tour ended up being a tour where I would have to deploy from time to time. The last class I was enrolled in was a creative writing class with a female instructor – don’t remember her name, of course – and two other students beside me – both were female. All three were very smart, very well-read, and really into their writing. I felt way outclassed and more than a little insecure so I wasn’t too disappointed when I was told I was going to have to deploy, which forced me to have to drop the class. :)


          1. Heh, you couldn’t be as bad as this one person in one of my creative writing classes who wrote about teddy bears and machine guns in every. single. story. even the poems.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. I have both an instinct for the books I will enjoy and also my favourites. I rate Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as much as Dickens and Hemingway. A good book is egalitarian and to me, I’m interested in quality of story and theme. I read voraciously because it allows me to be bolder in my writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One reason I love reading fiction is no matter which culture the author comes from, I can always relate to at least one of the characters. I can relate to their human-ness. I’m a Dostoevsky fan, and even though I have never spoken with a Russian, I can relate to the Russian characters: laugh with them, cry with them, feel their love and anger

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As usual, interesting thoughts from Mr Interesting. I also like how you wrote Marxist without inducing career threatening writer’s cramp. It’s okay, really. The ‘M’ word is safe, like a great big cuddle from the social justice fairy. As opposed to a thump from Trump. Now, I was an active reader, but I guess now I like to be entertained. I know, I know, I am swimming in the shallow end, but after years of literary fiction and other reads where I observed, absorbed and cogitated, my brain insisted, nay, demanded, I dissolve the grey matter into mindless entertainment. Your work excepted, of course, Kurt!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always so kind and encouraging, you are. Exception noted, my friend. :) Nowadays mostly when I read or watch something on a screen I (intend to) do so critically in the hopes it helps me grow as novelist/screenwriter, and/or provides me fodder for something to post here. You know, publish or perish and all that rot…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well put, Kurt. I sometimes find myself viewing the years of wearing rose-colored glasses through that same old pair. As you say, reading, like writing, should be difficult. It’s hard to see things as they really are – most especially yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I took a lot of literature classes in college — part of my “I want to understand EVERYTHING” phase — so I have a hard time *not* being an active reader. Which is probably why I need to throw in a light mystery occasionally, in between my usual choices.
    I also like to re-read books for this reason — to see how they affect me now, compared to then. It’s interesting to see how my ‘angle’ may have changed, or simply how much more I now understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting, C.J. If you ever write about the changes in your perspective as it relates to your “angle” and the growth of your understanding I would be down – to use the vernacular of my sons – to read that.


  9. The whining you hear is not a mosquito. It’s me. Critically examining everything I read sounds too haaaaarrrrrd! But seriously – some books are created to prompt critical thinking and are flaccid without the active considerations of the reader. However – there is nothing passive about being wrapped up in a ‘story’ – the wrapping up is the emotional and mental response to a good story. “I couldn’t put it down… I read until my eyes wouldn’t focus…” That sort of thing. So I humbly suggest that applying a critically active approach to some stories, rather than a lover’s relaxation into another’s embrace, is like dissecting a cat to get at the purr.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, I agree with you totally, tpesce2015. It wasn’t made clear enough in the post I guess, but I’m referring to literary theory and its application toward literature/literary fiction. I suppose there are times when one would want to break down genre fiction but for me it would be rare – kinda like trying to be critical re: whatever the latest brain drain sitcom is on tv.


  10. It’s too late at night for me to address your question regarding the kind of reader I am, but it’s not too late for me to tell you that I loved the whole “white, WASPy guy” stuff. I have written about a lot of “white, WASPy girl” stuff, but it’s all still on legal pads because I’m scared to post it! I am not the kind of girl anyone would expect to have even the least bit of irreverence to her. And I am CERTAINLY not the kind of girl who would EVER use profanity in anything published for the world to see. (I do, though, have an irreverent streak to me, and I have posted words that are not exactly “ladylike”…in today’s post, in fact). Oh, I really would love to share my satirical essays about life as a WASP on the East Coast (NY and New England, in particular). Though I’m scared that I’d feel like (a really pathetic example of the brilliant writer) Truman Capote after the fall out from his short story “La Cote Basque, 1965”. And that would not be good. Fun, but not good. That having been said, any thoughts on a gracious way to post things that I find to be funny (along with some of my fellow irreverent WASPs–those who have already come out as irreverent, that is)? Maybe regular WASPs have a sense of humor, too….? That would be my hope.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, tonight, I abandoned my WASP angst and went for a Kanye Rant. It was inspired by a one line FB post by one of my friends. But when I get going….as my little tag line says…”You never know what I might come up with!”. Thanks for following, by the way. You are my first follower! And my first commenter. (How am I doing so far? I plan to get the blog going and then to make it look cool, like everyone else’s, but first I need to just sit down and write and get more than one post a month out there! And by the way, I have spent a lot of time in Virginia, myself…I love it there….)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, Kanye does tend to trigger rants, especially in WASPy-like folks.

          As long as you enjoy your blogging experience, that’s all that matters. Typically it takes years to build up a decent following; though some original bloggers have become overnight sensations – speaking of WASPs, the blog stuffwhitepeoplelike comes to mind as a quick hit. But, if you are like most of us bloggers, you’ll spend most of your time in the beginning blogging to yourself – so as long as you think it’s so far so good, you’re all good.

          I will say though that you tend to write long posts with big chunky paragraphs. In this 140 word mind limit day and age, it’s hard to get readers to read big stuff so you might want to break your writing up into 1 or 2 sentence paragraphs if possible. Long posts are okay, just add more white space to give the eyes a break.

          Other than that…

          Write on, my friend.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks, Kurt! You are so sweet to give me some advice. And to make me feel better about the fact that you are my sole follower. I will attempt to make it worth your while! (I wonder where I would put essays, then?? Any thoughts?) Thanks again…I’ll have a funny post within the next couple of days. Well, I hope it will be funny.


  11. Cool….. may I recommend Jonathan Culler – On Deconstruction.
    [myself, I stay away from it, but this is a good read] ergo for Stanley Fish’s Is there a Text in this Class?. Wolfgang Iser – anything by him: reader reception theory. maybe this stuff is old hat to our honored host of the fiendishly delightful mind-groping, self-questing, intellect-rousing meal, but this fare is solid.
    As I said, I don’t do the post-structuralism honky-tonky, but it’s nice to see people getting totally wrapped up in it.
    try other types of reads too, though.
    old school literary criticism is super bad when handled by the right dudes.
    – libraries are not yet barricaded off. go and revel.



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