Death of the Reader

Talk about your misleading entry title.  My subject here is not as profound as the reader might larrybassume.  As the author has died so must the reader, I guess.  But actually I am referring here to “readers” as they are called in the world of writing instructors.  These are collections of articles, essays, and other sorts of writing/readings assigned by writing instructors to their students for the purpose largely of giving students something to write about when they write.

I have hardly ever used these collections myself.  I did for a while when I was the person training teaching assistants to work in our Writing Program.  They were required to use Behrens “Reading And Writing Across the Curriculum” or WRAC, as we came informally to call it, and so I used it too.  That seemed only fair.   

One may find quite an enormous variety of such readers.  Back in the day, when publishers were possibly less cost conscious, I was flooded with the things, new ones appearing every other day it seemed in my mail box.  I think there are still quite a few of them, and they can be money makers for their editors.  Larry Behrens, for example, had an office two doors down from me, and I know he made more than chump change off his book.  Also, one door way, and two doors away are the editors of Common Culture, a reader that has made its co-editors some money.

I have toyed for years with the idea of making up a reader and making some money from it.  Why not?  But I never get very far with the idea.  It just seems like too much work, or too much of the kind of work I don’t really want to do, sifting through articles trying to find ones that might work with your average, generic American college student.  And, well, I must say, I am not entirely in favor of such readers.  Not because they are bad, but because in my opinion writing teachers should always make their own readers.  That’s what I have done, so everybody else should do it too.

Aside though from this rampant narcissism, I have a slightly more rational reason for taking this position.  Making up your own reader tends to compel the instructor to think a bit more about the readings, their over all purposes, their levels of difficulty, and how they might be used in writing assignments.  Your pre-packaged commercial reader doesn’t require the instructor to do this and sometimes I think they act a bit too much as a prop for the writing instructor, though I do know your average free way flier instructor simply may not have the luxury of the time that I have to waste putting together a reader, when they are readily available pre-canned as it were.

My reservations, though, re: readers did not keep me recently from putting together a proposal for just one such reader that I sent off to McGraw Hill.  I haven’t heard from them yet, and I don’t expect them to take me up on the project, since my ideas tend towards the eccentric.  Still, for the heck of it, I started in the last few days to put together a trail run reader that I will use in one of my courses this upcoming quarter.  Looking around for readings, of course, led me to forage on the web, and this foraging has led me to conclude that your basic “reader” is dead, but doesn’t know it yet.

To be continued…..

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