Review – Reading Culture: Context for Critical Reading and Writing, 4th ed., by Kimberley Norlund
Reading Culture by Diana George and John Trimbur is not a how-to text on writing but rather a how-to text on thinking critically of American culture. As a visually stimulating reader reflecting everyday encounters through articles and illustrations, Reading Culture succeeds in capturing its audience’s attention. George and Trimbur’s idea is “to treat contemporary American culture as a vast research project‑‑to understand its ways of life from the inside as you live and observe them” (3). The ten chapters include such topics as Generations, Schooling, Work, Images, Style, History, and Multicultural America. These topics give students a chance to read persuasive arguments on such matters as they might encounter in life, not just in the classroom. George and Trimbur explain, “One of our central aims is to provide students with reading and writing assignments in their familiar ways of life, and to understand how these ways of life fit into the diverse, mass-mediated, multicultural realities of contemporary America” (xxv). The authors do succeed with this aim.
For teachers of a persuasive argument class, this text would be a good primary text. The authors have made the text extremely flexible for the classroom by providing alternate groupings of the articles under the sections “Alternate Contents” and “Rhetorical Contents.” Alternate Contents assembles articles under the following headings: Journalism and Popular Writing, Academic and Critical Writing, and Literary Essays and Fiction. Rhetorical Contents uses heading such as narration, description, exposition/informative writing, etc., to group articles. In this way, teachers are free to have students move around the text as needed depending on the topic being taught. Also, there are suggestions for reading, discussion, and writing with almost every reading.
This text also offers several other features not necessarily included in other comparable texts. The Visual Culture sections show students different images such as billboards or newspaper pictures to analyze and interpret. The Fieldwork sections in most chapters offer students a chance to observe and interview people about culture in a broad sense. the Mining the Archive sections are especially helpful for students to learn to use resources such as the Web and the library. These sections give a historical significance to the topic being discussed. One assignment might be for students to find old textbooks in the library and write about the different cultural norms present in the past and how they have changed today. Most chapters also offer a section called Perspectives, which shows paired readings of a particular topic. These readings show students how authors can have different ideas or thoughts about a subject and how they write persuasively in each case.
Another nice point about this text is that it offers a companion website (www.awl.com/george/). This is not a duplication of the text but rather a complement to it. The readings found here are different than those in the text yet they cover the same topics. There are links to locations mentioned in the readings as well as helpful sites for students and teachers. It also has capabilities for teachers to use this as a discussion board and a place students can submit reading responses online.
The readings on the website as well as in the text itself are quite interesting. Such topics as daytime talk shows, school shootings, and “Goths in Disneyland” certainly grab students’ attention. These readings may seem like fluff to some instructors but students do deal with these issues every day. These topics are part of their culture here in America. This text will help them look at this culture critically rather than to accept it at face value. They will do this through writing persuasive arguments about their thoughts on the articles. Although this text does not explicitly teach writing, students will learn to develop ideas and arguments as they explore culture in America.