My first reading memories involve me tearing through series such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, whose epic tales kept my eyes glued to the page for hours on end. My favorite part of reading these novels, I confess, wasn’t the almost immaculately-crafted characters or the exciting stories, but the imagery and the setting that allowed me to envision the events taking place page after page. One poor habit that arose during these early readings, though, was that the ‘muscle’ in my brain responsible for absorbing the entirety of the information on each page slacked off pretty heavily. Reading quickly to keep up the scene’s mental ‘image,’ I’d sometimes jump over a line or two, often missing cues of foreshadowing, dramatic and comedic irony, and the like. If authors and poets were magicians, I would be able to see their tricks and gasp in awe, but while others understood the mechanism, I would barely notice its presence. Although children reading novels in this age group don’t necessarily need to have these skills mastered, I had almost wholly neglected them, sowing the seeds for later troubles, especially when it came to the reasoning section of paragraphs and essays. When I finally got to middle school, I was able to retain decent grades on papers with the help of organization and discipline; where my analysis failed, my grammar, studentship, and other tasks on the rubric helped my writing grades stay afloat. When I wrote my To Kill a Mockingbird essay, it was clear that my reasoning was missing: in trying to show loss of innocence within the characters (my thesis), I was using raw chunks of plot as the reasoning to anchor my point. The same thing happened in my essay on Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. Both of these essays should have been wake-up calls, but when my teachers noted that I was missing that sense of critical reasoning, I paid little heed. By the time freshman English rolled around, I was so set in the habits I’d developed as an early reader of Harry Potter that I couldn’t even imagine the way good analysis read.
Finally, my day of reckoning came in the form of a Romeo and Juliet essay. Like countless Greek heroes, I watched as my hubris took an already dicey situation to a new low. Of the dozen essay topics we’d received, I chose to write about the use of humor, arguably the most challenging of the theses. The essay was flawed from the first outline. After I wrote the rough draft, it continued to degrade with each coming day; my daily tinkering, a result of weak analysis desperately trying to find something to hang onto, led to a thesis that was long, complex, and almost impossible to argue. A black hole of claims, reasoning, wording, and due dates, was sucking me into its void, and I, unable to think critically and analyze texts, had no choice but to watch while flailing my arms. Albeit spending an ungodly amount of the time on the assignment, I submitted knowing that it was atrocious. The Romeo and Juliet essay was my wake-up call: I needed to change how I read, write, and think.
I’m fortunate enough to have been surrounded by teachers and students who possessed strong essay-writing and offered guidance. From sophomore year to junior year, I made use of resources such as our school’s writing center and one-on-one conversations with teachers, which provided me with many opportunities to see both clear and hidden opportunities for analysis and capitalize on them. I made a habit of trying to see the magic happen, slowing down when I read, finding metaphors, similes, and other literary devices, asking myself, ‘what is the author trying to say?’ and most of all, actively thinking and asking questions. This has led to stronger essays with better analysis and a more enjoyable experience reading novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. Although changing the way I read and write has been a grueling task, it has paid dividends. I recently read Catch-22, which is now my favorite book. Without the ability to analyze and think critically about the narrative, I would have missed the book’s essential facets. Indeed, there are still plenty of issues with my writing, but hurdling this particular obstacle has been the defining element of my reading and writing.
“A copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22” – picture taken by Yono Bulis