Guidelines for Reading Notebook, Letters, E-List Participation

Virginia Woolf was a prodigious reader, and she seldom wrote in the books she read. Instead she kept a reading notebook.  Her notes from reading filled 62 volumes at her death and have been edited by Brenda Silver, Virginia Woolf's Reading Notebooks (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983).  According to Silver, these notebooks played "a crucial role in Woolf's growth as critic, biographer, historian, and feminist" (xi).  Woolf used these notes in writing book reviews, and also in planning two of her nonfiction books, Three Guineas and Roger Fry: A Biography.  One of Woolf's biographers, Hermione Lee, notes that Woolf "evolved a way of writing about her reading somewhere between notebook, diary, fiction and criticism" (397).  Something like this is what I am looking for in asking each of you to keep a reading notebook for all of the Woolf books we read this semester.  Writing these notes should help you prepare for your oral presentations, exams, and seminar papers.

You may choose the letters or e-list option instead of a notebook (see below).

Deadlines:  At least once during the semester, I will check to see that you are keeping up.  

Expectations: I expect you to use a bound notebook of any size, writing at least 300 words about each of the Woolf books (including excerpts from Moments of Being), and to do that writing close to the time the book was assigned (or when you read it, if earlier).  It is best to write more than once on a single text, and to write at least 300 words at a time, so that you get past the superficial and into the analytical.   I will sometimes ask you to write in your reading notebooks during class, so always bring it to class. For many reasons, you must keep the reading notebook separate from your regular class notebook.  You will get the most out of your reading notebook if you:

Typing vs. Longhand.  Virginia Woolf  kept her reading notebooks in longhand, and kept her notebook by her side as she read.  For some of you, it will be easier to compose at a word processor, but you must paste those printouts into a bound notebook.  Even if you plan to compose digitally, it may be desirable to take notes  in longhand first, then paste in the narrative afterward.  Don't worry about whether that looks messy.  I am not concerned about neatness, but about your active engagement with reading. If you choose to participate in e-list discussion, you can print your email postings and paste them into your notebook.  Your entire notebook may consist of printed e-mail, if you like.

Grading: The reading notebook counts in the Miscellaneous portion of your grade as part of class participation. You will get full credit if you write at least 300 words about each book and keep up with the writings. You will be penalized if you have not kept up with the notebook when  checked. The real grade pay-off for putting time into these notebooks will be in the way they inform and improve your other graded work.

Letters and/or E-List Alternative Some people dislike keeping a journal of any kind.  If this describes you, your alternative is to find a classmate who feels the same way and write letters to each other about the readings, at least one letter and one response each week.  If you would rather not work with a partner, you can instead participate in the e-list and post your weekly thoughts to the entire class, responding to at least one posting from someone else each week (that’s two postings or two letters a week).  I will send everyone who has email instructions for joining the class e-list; participation is voluntary. Grading is the same as for keeping a reading notebook.  Keep hard copy of your letters or postings so I can check them around midterm.  You will turn them in on the last day of class, when reading notebooks are due.

Examples of E-list Responses.

Updated July 15, 2003
Created August 11, 2000

  Back to Virginia Woolf Seminar Home Page