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Brianna Cruz

January 26, 2017

English 203

Dr. Decker

Disliking Books at an Early Age by Gerald Graff

Gerald Graff allows readers to better understand his passion for literature by informing them of

his past relations with the subject. He informs readers that at an early age, Graff disliked the

subject especially due to the setting he grew up in. He explains on page 41 that being a young

Jewish man growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago effected his learning

experiences due to his constant fear of being bullied by other boys. Due to the time period he

grew up in and his family background, Graff decided to major in English upon entering

college. Unfortunately, this did not make the subject anymore admirable to him, on page 42 he

writes, " At this point the fear of being beaten up if I were caught having anything to do with

books was replaced by the fear of flunking out of college if I did not learn to deal with

them." Graffs text is still relevant to modern-day students, as many still face similar issues he

did. Although he studied the text and kept up with his school work, he often still felt flustered

during class due to his lack of ability to communicate his thoughts and opinions on literary works

in class. Graff goes on to explain the famous text that ultimately changed his view and attitude

toward literature in college, Huckleberry Finn. He describes how class debates and critic reviews

influenced his interest in the novel and viewpoint on the subject all together.
Graff continues to explain his views on literature and the way it is taught. He goes on to inform

readers that traditionally readers may become infatuated with literary works first and discover

literary criticisms later as they begin to find their passion for literature however in his personal

experience, he found his passion in what he considers "opposite." He states on page 45, "It was

only when I was introduced to a critical debate about Huckleberry Finn that my helplessness in

the face of the novel abated and I could experience a personal reaction to it." From his personal

experience, his first altercations with literature were poor due to the lack of critical conversation

and literary criticisms. From this he presents his thesis by stating, "The moral I draw from this

experience is that our ability to read well depends more than we think on our ability to talk well

about what we read." Lastly, Graff examines and criticizes the way literature is being taught.

While he feels that books should be able to teach themselves, he explains how teachers effect

how students learn and react to the content. He refers to Allan Blooms The Closing of the

American Mind to better explain his view on how one may use text in ways it was not meant to

be used. He states, "What has gone wrong, Bloom suggests, is that instead of letting the texts

themselves dictate the questions we ask about them, a generation of overly professionalized

teachers has elevated its own narcissistic interests over those of the author and the students."

Graff is explaining how the relationship between the teachers lesson and the students has an

effect on the students relationship with the texts.

Did it feel like you settled when you decided to major in English?