If you’ve been reading this blog of reviews for a while, you’ll have realized that I am hardly an academic reviewer. I do not have any kind of formal training in reviewing or criticism, nor any in writing for that matter. I read a lot. I’ve taken the standard literature and creative writing classes that are required in a U.S. education, but nothing more. Now, I’m a bit of a snob. I do believe I got more out of these classes than many others. I can put together a coherent sentence usually, unlike many a blogger. Nevertheless, my reviewing is of haphazard quality. I would not be hired by the New York Times Book Review. I don’t lose much sleep over that though.
I do harbor aspirations to higher quality though. I often thought it would be through taking a class or two. Although I have plenty of free time these days, I do not have the ability to keep a regular schedule. So formal classes were out. I frequently perused the offerings of open courseware universities, particularly that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but never really found anything helpful. In addition, most open courseware sites do not include enough material to learn on ones own. They often lack detailed lecture notes.
Then I happened on a couple of books in the free pile at Michael’s Books. Have I mentioned this enough? I doubt it. One of those being Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice by Charles Bressler. Free. No lecture notes of course, but those are usually just a rehash of the book anyway. Where I wouldn’t have ordered a textbook on the subject because they are too expensive, free fits right in my price range. In addition, it’s a recent edition as well, published in 2007. I think Michael’s set it out for free because of extensive highlighting in the book. I can ignore that though. My only real worry is that Bressler’s Christian religion will mean there is some religious bias in the text. A quick glance at the section on queer theory and I see he calls one queer theorist
profound so I may not have much to worry about.
So this entry is essentially my attempt to absorb some principles of literary theory so I can write better reviews. It’s being written over the course of many days. Think of the following pages as being both my reading notes (i.e., paraphrasing Bressler) as well as my own reactions and thoughts. A lot of that is all jumbled together, and is also my impressions, so don’t blame Bressler unless you read the textbook yourself.
Well, I’ve finished off the entire book now. I’m glad for having read the book as I certainly feel more educated. On the other hand, a lot of the theories were quite obtuse. I can’t say whether that is due to the theories themselves or to Bressler’s descriptions. I’ve got a feeling a lot of them are very hard to follow, basing that assumption off having tried to read a few philosophers in the past. Bressler largely fails in trying to make them understandable.
I’m quite disappointed at the chapter on Reader Response, as that is the theory I think I would most likely embrace. Bressler seems to focus very much on the abstract there rather than the practical. Again, that might be because academics are way more abstract.
It’s not all negative. For every literary theory, Bressler gives a set of questions that proponents of that theory would ask about literature. I think those are bet at giving he flavor of how to proceed under that guise. Since this is designed for an introductory course, to be an effective theorist, one would have to read a lot more than this.
A lot of the literary theories discussed later in the book seem to be less about literary criticism than about using literature in broader cultural studies. My purpose is to become a better reader (and reviewer). So the uses described here aren’t helpful to me.
There are probably better surveys of literary theory out there so I can’t really recommend this book. If you are coming from a background of near zero knowledge like I am though, you might still get something out of it.
For those reading this in feed readers, there are another 10 pages of reading notes and thoughts on each chapter available on the web site. Click through if you are interested.
Title: Literary criticism: an introduction to theory and practice
Author: Charles E. Bressler
Cover creator: Kristen Ankiewicz (photographer)
Imprint / publisher: Pearson Prentice Hall / Pearson Education
Length: 370 p. (includes glossary, index, and other material)
Publication date: 2007
LC classification: PN81.B666 2007