Writing Literature Critiques

“Don’t be stupid, you moron.”– Ben Stern, father of radio personality, Howard Stern

As a beginning scholar, if you slam a work of published literature (especially a “classic”) because you claim that it has nothing to do with you or that it is “stupid,” “boring” or “irrelevant,” readers (especially teachers) will probably disagree with you.

Worse, they will probably conclude that you are out of touch with the world outside of your Instagram or Tumblr page or that you are simply too immature, too inexperienced or too undereducated to understand the work. Conversely, just because you relate well to a character or because the narrator is sarcastic and funny, doesn’t mean you’re reading great literature. When writing critiques, write as an educated adult, addressing other educated adults. Do not simply complain about or gush about a text (save that for your Tumblr), but give evidence to support your position. Try to be OBJECTIVE.

That said, you are absolutely allowed to hate or love stuff you read, just make sure that your reasons are fair. Your opinions, positive and negative, should be based on principle or on form. Rejecting a text on principle means that the worldview presented in the text seems wrong or unintentionally biased or unreasonable. Maybe the text is racist or it puts down religion or women or men or children or working people or rich people or poor people or young people or old people or gay people or straight people or people from New Jersey or people from Europe or lawyers or plumbers. Maybe the text includes factual errors or outright lies. Maybe it is too dark and despairing or it is falsely positive and optimistic. Rejecting a text on form means that you think it is poorly written or that it contains too much verbal “fat” such as long, unnecessary descriptions or too many characters that don’t serve the story or the themes. Maybe it is too emotional or too childish, or has too many facts and figures and technical jargon or it wanders around without making a point.

It’s fine to hate a text; just be careful. Authors might intentionally create a story that seems racist to point out the problems with racism. A story might be written in a confusing manner intentionally to reflect the confusion of a character or within a complex theme. Always beware, as a beginning scholar, of slamming a text. Shakespeare has been influential for much longer than you have, so don’t just say that he’s stupid.

Tonio Favetta is the author of Falling From the Ground, a Y/A SciFi adventure. He also teaches high school English.

Posted in Student Resources

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