16 Oct

Love of Literature Check-In

Posted in DIY MFA, Literature

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Today I thought I’d do a Love of Literature check-in post to see how everyone’s doing with their DIY MFA literature study.

What’s on the bedside table?  What are you reading these days?  Right now, I’m flying through a bunch of verse novels: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, and Witness and Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

How’s the reading list coming?  Back in September we talked about building a reading list.  It took me a while to put together a reading list and it’s constantly changing, but at least having a general list helps me stay focused.  What about you?  How’s your list looking?  Checked off any books yet?

The “Big Paper”:  Last time we talked about the idea of writing a big literature paper, we discussed two different approaches to talking about a body of literature: author study and thematic study.  Have you chosen which paper you’d want to write (or at least outline?)  That’s the first step.

Step 2–Topic:  For the next step, you need to decide on a topic you want to cover and start thinking about what argument you want to prove in your paper.  To give you an idea of papers I’ve written in the past, one was an author study where I discussed mother-daughter relationships in 4 different books by the same author.  For another class, I talked about books as a means of creating an experience for the reader and discussed various different books by different authors, books that create experiences in different ways.

Step 3–Making Your Point: Remember, the main purpose of writing a “big paper” is because you have something to say about the literature, some point you want to make for the reader.  The most important part of writing a “big paper” is coming up with this central argument and then using the literature to prove your point, in much the same way as a lawyer uses evidence to prove his case in court.  Some teachers call this step “Formulating your Thesis” but I prefer to say “Stating your Case” or “Making your Point.”  Thesis sounds big and scary, and frankly, not everybody knows what a thesis statement is supposed to be.  But if we say this step is like making a point about the literature and then using books to prove our case… I don’t know about you, but it makes a whole lot more sense in my brain.

So the next two steps for a “big paper” are thinking about what topic you want to address and then deciding what point you want to make about the literature.  Here are some examples:

  • Topic: Mother-daughter relationships in books by Carolyn Mackler
    Point: In all the books, the daughter finds a unique way to break away from the mother and assert her independence, but how the daughter chooses to do this is inextricably linked to the daughter’s personality and identity.
  • Topic: Books as Experience
    Point: Some authors have chosen to stretch the very meaning of the concept “book.”  In these books, the interaction between the book and the reader is intricately designed by the author.  In doing so, these authors redefine what it means to “read” and push the reader to adopt a specific role in relation to the book, thus creating a unique reading experience.  As we examine the techniques and implications of designing a book-as-experience, we will discover that form must indeed follow function—or in this case, story.

So tell me, how’s your literature study coming along?  Read anything good lately?


    Comments on this post

    1. Shaddy aka Cheryl says:

      I'm reading THE SCARLET LETTER.

      1. Caroline Starr Rose says:


        1. Catherine A. Winn says:

          About to try an author from the library I hadn't heard about and happened to stumble over Saturday. Murder Never Forgets (2005) by Diana O'Hehir

          1. Dave Symonds says:

            Reading a few verse novels myself. About to start Shakespeare Bats Cleanup

            1. Kerryn Angell says:

              I'm reading a friend's novel, Medusa's Garden, that she's asked me to critique and I've just finished The Artist's Way.

              I've finally begun compiling a reading list now that I'm able to commit to a WIP and a genre for at least a couple of months.

              I'm brainstorming ideas for a thematic study of New Zealand historical fiction but have a question about Making The Point. Is it more like an argument that you will prove or disprove by reading the books? I don't know how I can make such any statement without reading the books and finding out how authors are approaching a topic like mother-daughter relationships. Or am I not getting it? This might be a good discussion point for the DIY MFA community so feel free to transfer the discussion there if you think it suits better!

              1. gabi says:

                Kerryn, You an important question. Yes, the point you're trying to make about the books is sort of like an argument you make using the books as proof. It's true though, that it's hard to formulate a strong argument until you've read all the books you plan to cover.

                Keep in mind also that you may read some books that turn out not to fit your argument (or are just irrelevant to it) so you may need to adjust your reading list or the argument accordingly.

                The way I write, my "thesis statement" is always negotiable until I've really started writing the paper in earnest.

                Turns out I had lots more to say about this than I thought so I'll probably do a post on this subject later in the week!

                Thanks for a great question!

                1. Wannabe Writer says:

                  I'm a little late, but I was out of town. I'm reading Vegan Virgin Valentine and Sisters Red.

                  1. Kerryn Angell says:

                    Thanks gabi. I'll look forward to your next posts about it. I think I like the idea of exploring a theory/hypothesis through novels too, even if what I discover proves the theory to be false. It sounds like that's not the point of the Big Paper but I think it would be a really interesting exercise anyway.

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