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Critical Response on Gerald Graff’s; Disliking Books

Updated on September 14, 2012

Disliking Books is about a young man (the author) who grows up really detesting the idea of reading for school and pleasure altogether. He uses his fear of being bullied and the fact that he grew up as a middle-class Jew in Chicago as his preliminary excuse for not reading when he was younger. As he got older and entered the college level he uses his fear of flunking as a way to sort of pushing himself into doing the required readings and homework for his English major. Still he still can’t quite relate to the text and for the longest time this prevents him from fully engaging into his readings. Then, when he takes a class his junior year the teacher tells them about an interesting controversy involving The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This controversy stated that book really ends when the boys steal Jim, not when everyone realizes that Jim has already been freed. As Graff starts researching more and more into this controversy he becomes more and more enthralled into the world of literature, even engaging in other books with controversies as well. Graff even eventually becomes a teacher who teaches those types of thing.

In the opening sentence of this essay Graff states, “I like to think I have a certain advantage as a teacher of literature because when I was growing up I disliked and feared books.” Although I agree with Graff to an extent, after all knowing how a student feels might give him an advantage with some students, say the literary type; I don’t think that would be enough to have an advantage with most. After all students are different, and therefore interested in different things. What if his students are taking his course because they are required to? What if they really have no interest at all in controversies and literature and thinking critically? How will he have the advantage of knowing where they came from then? In fact in his entire essay Graff did not mention a single example as to when his previous aversion to books actually gave him an advantage or helped him as a teacher like he bragged that it did in the opening paragraph. In this respect Graff’s essay is lacking any and all evidence of his original claim.

Graff talks about how literate his father was in paragraph 4. He said he was always bringing home books for him to read and even went to the extreme of confining Graff in a room with one for quite some time with the hopes that he would finish one. I have to wonder if Graff later decided to major in English to please his father rather then by default like he claims.

In paragraph 16 Graff says, “Our ability to read well depends more than we think on our ability to talk well about what we read.” This I think is the true gem of his entire paper. In fact if he would have started out using this “moral” as a thesis statement in the first paragraph he still could have told everyone his story, while making the focus and purpose of his essay much clearer, which I believe is that thinking critically helps you to talk well, and relate better with, whatever it is that you are reading.

All in all I think Graff spent way too much time going over his personal life rather than backing up his claims with legitimate examples and evidence. I think this essay was intended for people who are interested in the life of Graff before he became a professor, not for people looking to use their former fears of books to help them teach. The tone of the essay sounded like that of someone who was more interested in talking about himself rather than educating people on the importance of the ability to talk well about what we read.


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