The Book in its Natural Habitat

This is Beth Ayer’s final post as web editor for Changing Lives, Changing Minds. She is moving on to pursue a position as Outreach and Technology Coordinator for United Neighbors of Fall River/Americorps.

As a literature student I learned to suppress personal opinion in literary analysis. Critical reading, we were told, had nothing to do with us. Rather than looking for ourselves in books, we examined structure, style, figurative language; we practiced explication de texte.

Close reading changed not only how I think about literature, but also how I think, period. People joke about the dismal job prospects of the English student, but my studies were invaluable, without question. Analytical ability accompanied me out of books and into life. So why not the reverse?

Working as a part of CLTL for the last year, I’ve witnessed the value of personal literary analysis. This does not mean abandoning critical reading or attention to matters of style, language and structure, but rather adding the element of natural interaction with the text. CLTL promotes looking at characters’ struggles while reflecting on your own, and allows viewing a story’s complex situation from the perspective of your own seat. Revolutionary! We can read closely, analyzing texts and in doing so change the way we think; we can also react with the text and change (or understand) the way we feel.

The first time I sat in a CLTL classroom, I was a bit intimidated, even after having been in a literature classroom many times before. Many of the participants were shy at first, but a few were outgoing and seemed to respond immediately to the facilitator’s (Professor Waxler) subtle cue to examine the characters’ struggles in terms of their own. I froze, suddenly feeling completely unprepared to do so.

“What makes Santiago keep trying?” asked Professor Waxler (of The Old Man and the Sea). This question was one for each of us to ask ourselves. Questions like this demand a personal investment and cannot be tackled objectively.

Does reading help us understand and relate to other people? Yes, I’d say it does. But not without looking them in the eye and yourself in the mirror.

CLTL commits to justice and democracy by encouraging personal involvement in important discussions. Literature affords us the right to examine the world beyond right and wrong, good and bad, and this access to ambiguity makes reading a truly unparalleled effort.

I have enjoyed my year as web editor for Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and hope to remain a part of the community I’ve found myself in- namely, the network of people and organizations working to promote justice, equality and education.

Thank you CLTL, for this unique experience.

Please join us in welcoming our new web editor, Katie Newport. Katie is a graduate student in UMass Dartmouth’s Professional Writing program, and will continue to expand the blog’s success. The fall blog schedule will pick back up with an essay posted every Wednesday starting September 15th.


4 thoughts on “The Book in its Natural Habitat

  1. Beth,

    This is an inspirational and thoughtful post; one which serves as a reminder of the shoes I’m attempting to fill as I transition into my new position.

    I wish you the very best, and look forward to hearing about your future endeavors, as well as joining you amidst this community.


  2. Hi Beth: You have done a wonderful job as editor. Thank you so much. We are all grateful to you, and we wish you the best as you continue on your journey. We will of course continue to call on you for help as we move forward. Keep the vision.

  3. Dear Beth,

    Once again you have captured the spirit of CLTL and all the wonderful ways it differs from an ordinary academic classroom. The way we learn, in a CLTL class room, to view the text from our own experience — that is the thing I like best about the class. And the way the students get into this spirit, once they realize it’s not quite like regular “school work.”

    I wish you all the best in your next job. It’s been a pleasure to work with you.


  4. It is great to have you on board as we continue on our journey. Wish you the best this coming year and in the future. Know that you will keep us posted; hope we are able to do the same.


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