What Can You Say
About a Book?

Ideas and Inspiration for Improving Book Talk
and Book Reviews

by Steve Peha

Read Like a Reader

We might think of this as the normal way of reading where we try to figure out what a piece of writing means by understanding the words a writer writes. Sounds simple enough. But even this normal way is more complicated than it seems.

When you read like a reader you usually do one or more of the following six things:

(1) Question. Readers ask good questions about the things they read: Why is something happening? Or not happening? Why is a character feeling or acting a certain ways? Why did the author use a particular word? And so on. Questions help readers clarify their understanding.

(2) Predict. No reader, it seems, can resist thinking about what a writer is going to write next. Predicting helps readers sort out important information from unimportant information. It also helps them organize their thinking as they encounter new material.

(3) Infer. Readers figure out things that aren’t actually written in the text. There’s almost always more to a text than just the words on the page. Often, writers leave “clues” that good readers can use to discover important information.

(4) Connect. We can’t help but be reminded of our own lives as we read. We’re also reminded of similar things we’ve read in other texts and other parts of the same text.

(5) Feel. Readers have feelings while they read. Sometimes, it seems like we have a direct connection to what we’re reading: sad parts make us feel sad, happy parts make us feel happy, scary parts scare us, and so on. But often, the feelings we have are more subtle. Much of the meaning we get from a text comes from the emotions we feel when read it.

(6) Evaluate. Readers make judgments while they read: Is this good? If so, what’s good about it? Do I like it? Why? Should I keep reading or should I put this down and get something else? The evaluations they make help them decide whether or not what they are reading is valuable.

Reading Like a Reader

Here’s what was on my mind as I read like a reader through the first paragraph of a short story called “Eddie Takes Off”:

    Eddie had always been able to fly, but it wasn’t until his fifth birthday party that he realized that it would turn out to be a bit of a social problem. Until that embarrassing day on the Johnsons’ lawn, Eddie’s parents had treated his airborne peculiarity as something of a childish whim. “Boy’s gotta stretch out, learn what he can do,” said his father. “I just worry that he’ll hurt himself, you know, bump into the ceiling or get his eye poked out by a bird, I don’t know...” said his mother. For the young Eddie, flying was just another discovery about his developing body, like learning that he could reach out his arm and ring the bell on his cradle railing, or finding that he loved the taste of peas. The first time his parents came into the nursery and found Eddie hovering a foot or two off the floor it came as a bit of a shock. But, after all, parents are forever discovering special little things about their children. Eddie’s mother thought that perhaps they should take their son to see a specialist, but his father vetoed the idea. “It’s not like anything’s wrong with him, and I don’t want him getting a complex about it.”

— From Eddie Takes Off by Ben Hippen

Question: Is this a fantasy story where people have special powers? Or is the author using the idea of flying to stand for something else?

Predict: I think Eddie’s flying is going to get him in trouble.

Infer: Eddie’s parents seem strange. I think the author is trying to tell us that they may not be very smart or very sensitive.

Connect: This reminds me of Harry Potter where a boy has special powers. But it also makes me think of other kids I have seen who may be different.

Feel: I feel sorry for Eddie. I think he’s going to be lonely because people aren’t going to understand him.

Evaluate: The beginning is good. I’m curious about Eddie and his flying and I like author’s entertaining and funny style.

Getting Started

The beginning of a text is always a great place to take time for a close reading. Take the opening page of any novel you’re interested in and read it like a reader. Respond to the text just like I responded to “Eddie Takes Off” by making a few comments for each of the six activities.