Response: Literature as Conversation
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
Introduction: “The Trolley Car that Ran By Ebbets Field”
Weak response, example #1:
This book is about the Brooklyn Dodgers. Roger Kahn was a writer who covered the Dodgers in 1952 and 1953. He talks about what it was like to watch the games. Then he talks about Brooklyn why the team is called the Dodgers. Then he talks about Jackie Robinson and all the racism he faced. Then he talks about………….
This is considered a weak response because it is only a PLOT SUMMARY. Again, that may be useful to refresh your memory, but that is NOT a response. You will never be asked to simply summarize the plot on a literary or academic essay, on the Regents exam, and especially in college. This is simply not enough; basic comprehension is no longer our goal.
Weak response, example #2:
I don’t like this book. It’s stupid and boring. I don’t understand any of it. I don’t like baseball and I really don’t care about baseball. I hate reading, it’s a waste of time. I don’t understand some of the words and it doesn’t make any sense to me. I have no idea what’s going on….
This response is weak because it is an OPINION, an evaluative judgment, and while we do tend to do that, it is not useful for the purpose of literary response. None of us is qualified to judge literature this way, and again, you will never be asked for this sort of opinion on an essay, or on the Regents exam. You must not let your opinion, especially a negative one, get in the way of your response. The key is to write what you are getting from the reading; you must be getting something. You can only be wrong if you get nothing.
Fair response, example #1:
This book is interesting. This guy must have really loved baseball. I didn’t even know the Dodgers played all those years in Brooklyn. I didn’t know “Dodgers” was short for “Trolley Dodgers.” I really feel sorry for Jackie Robinson. He must have had a hard time dealing with all that racism. It must have been sad when the team moved……
This is better; it does show evidence of reading and understanding, and some evidence of meaningful thought and insight, but it touches on many different ideas without exploring any of them. This is a start, as it shows the reader beginning to think beyond the text, but it’s really more of a reaction than a response; the writer would have to explore these ideas in order for this to be effective.
Fair response, example #2:
My uncle Angelo lives in Brooklyn and he likes baseball. He lives in Flatbush with my Aunt Sylvia and my cousins Joey and Loretta. I always like to visit uncle Angelo. He took me to a Yankee game last year. We had a great time. We sat in the bleachers out in right field, about three rows back. Angelo is a Yankees fan, but Joey likes the Mets. I don’t know why; they must fight a lot….
This one also is better than the weak responses, and it’s wonderful that the text reminded the student of his own life, but the writing here drifts too far away from the text. He would need to come back and make the connection between the experiences of the author, Roger Kahn, and his own. As interesting as it is, the writing doesn’t really show evidence of reading without making those specific and explicit connections.
Strong response, example #1:
This is a beautifully written introduction. It’s really amazing to think about what this city must have been like back then, when we had three baseball teams, and two of them would meet in the World Series almost every year. The Yankees won almost all of them; they beat the Dodgers so many times. Kahn’s description of the Dodgers losing in the end despite their greatness is truly heartbreaking. Like he said, on page xii, “you fall in love with a team in defeat.” I guess that’s true, but I wonder why? Maybe it’s because.…
This is an effective response which shows a clear understanding of the text and significant thought, consideration and insight by the student. It considers the specific subject matter of Kahn’s memoir in a larger context. Note that the writer “wonders” about an important statement made by the author, then begins to attempt to answer the questions he poses for himself.
Strong response, example #2:
I never really thought much about racial integration in baseball. There are so many black and Hispanic players now that it’s easy to forget the game used to be all-white. I had no idea it was so hard, especially for guys like Jackie Robinson. Kahn writes about Robinson and the Dodgers partly as a lesson in tolerance social history, but also suggests that Robinson’s play didn’t have to be such a lesson; all he wanted was to play, and all the Dodgers wanted was to win, but they unwittingly became a national issue at a time when……..
This is a more sophisticated analysis, as the student here speculates on Kahn’s literary objectives and the larger, real-world issues associated with the book. While not strictly a literary analysis, in that literary elements and techniques are not specified, the response focuses on the author and what he was trying to do, looking at the text from a critical point of view, which is useful on Task IV of the Regents. Again, the response shows evidence of reading and thorough understanding of the text, as well as significant thought, sophisticated insight, and critical analysis.