Pleasures of Reading – Literary Decomposition

Nodelman extols the virtues of story dissection in Chapter Four of Pleasures.  I can’t too excited.  His  emphasis is that its the background knowledge and our ability to make inferences which makes stories come alive for us. I do not deny that inferencing and background make a huge difference in comprehension and enjoyment of story but I question the need for literary dissection.  As a confident reader and leaning on some of the other reading of Nodelman himself, I ask “Do I do this when I read?”  The simple answer is “No”.  I don’t look for theme, sometimes they emerge for me sometimes they hit me over the head (less enjoyable) but I don’t really look for it.  I did not read ‘joy in the glory of the world’ as a theme of Charlotte’s Web.  I wondered if Charlotte and Fern would save Wilber.  That said, what does Nodelman say about good readers and things that we might teach children so that they enjoy booksa nd story more.

Good readers make predictions and confirmations as they read.

Good readers build pictures within their heads from the descriptions that they read.

Good stories have a combination of flat and round characters; flat characters who are simple and constant, round characters who are complex and developing.

Good writers use story and plot to construct their narratives.  A story is a chronological telling of events, plot is an ordered narration which varies chronology at times to increase tension or provide more information.

Good writers balance summaries and scenes.  Summaries which are brief snapshots of events and scenes which are longer retellings of events.

Good writers sometimes retell pieces of the story for emphasis or character development.

Sometimes whole chapters in books do not play into the overall story of a narrative but build a piece of the plot or character to add to the narrative.

Good writers make use  of voice or voices when telling story.  This voice tells us something about the authors attitude towards the audience or material of the narrative.

Focalizing is a technique used by authors to create connection to a particular point of view within the story.  We are more likely to be sympathetic to a character whose thoughts and motivations we have some knowledge of.

Six major pieces are going on in good narratives – rich description, intriguing characters, suspenseful plots, interesting themes, complex structures and variable focalizations.

So I know a little more.  Will I do this when I read now that I know?  I have enjoyed books before I thought about these things.  It doesn’t wreck the story for me to do this.  I have decomposed text for the purposes of classes before but do I really want to do this when I read?  Will it increase my pleasure in the story?

It is something which makes my criticism of Snow Tunnel Sisters make sense to me.  It lacked rich description and suspenseful plot and complex structure.  It may help me make my criticism more substantial than I don’t like it.  Hmmm.



Filed under children's lit, curriculum, library, literacy

2 responses to “Pleasures of Reading – Literary Decomposition

  1. Debbie Pushor

    Susan, I think this entry links beautifully to your entry on joy. How do we naturally and authentically deconstruct what we are reading with children, in ways that are like what we do in our adult book clubs or conversations with friends about a novel we have just read? How do we keep the conversation ‘real’ – about what really matters to us, about what we are truly trying to make sense of, and about how? How do we keep the story joyful and rich while we do this? How do we know when to stop deconstructing before we take the joy out of the process?

  2. Thank you for this! I found your blog when checking I had the phrase “literary decomposition” correct – the search engtine popped you up first!
    I like your take on the process – because it gels with mine. I shall take your points and use them to improve my reviews.

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