• Friday, February 3 by 10 pm to Blackboard

For your first paper in this class, you will write a brief close reading of Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. As we will discuss in class, doing a “close reading” means you will make an original argument defending your interpretation of the text, based on specific evidence from that text. For this paper, you will make an argument about the significance of one specific pattern that you find in How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

The Process

  • Start by finding a pattern. One way to think about close reading papers is that they are attempts to argue for the significance of specific textual patterns that you discover in the text you are writing about. A pattern is simply a repeated textual element. Your pattern might be organized around repetition: repeated words, repeated symbols, repeated metaphors, repeated settings. It might also involve change: how the meaning of a specific image seems to change throughout the text, for example, or how a particular character changes, or how the style of narration changes at a particular point. It might also have to do with the structure and/or form of the text: you might notice that certain chapters are organized in a particular way, or that the plot is repetitive or otherwise structured in a different or unexpected way. There are endless possibilities. On Monday, Jan 30 and Wednesday, Feb 1, you will bring patterns that you have discovered in the text to class. You may write your close reading paper about one of these patterns, or another pattern you discover. The point is just that you choose one specific pattern to write about.
  • The next step is harder: you need to interpret what this pattern means in terms of the text as a whole, and write a brief paper designed to convince your reader of the validity of this interpretation. In a close reading paper, you are trying to answer the question: “so what?” So you’ve found a specific pattern in the text: so what? What does this pattern mean, in terms of the text as a whole? Why/how is it important to our understanding of the text as a whole?

Details & Requirements

  • 2-3 pages double-spaced (700-1000 words)
  • Citations and format according to some established citation style (MLA and Chicago style are generally the easiest for text. See the assignment page on our course site for links to online resources about how to format your paper using these styles).
  • Think hard about what pattern to write about: what can you tackle well in only 2-3 pages? Argue for your own original interpretation of your chosen pattern using specific evidence from the text to build your case.


  • You should organize your essay around one pattern in the text (and/or one central idea), as opposed to providing a list of claims and observations. Remain aware of the need to make specific claims rather than vague generalizations, building your argument around specific passages, pages, scenes, or other textual elements. I expect you to present an original thesis and to work closely through the text on your own, NOT to synthesize and then regurgitate interpretations we have worked through in class.


The short close reading paper is worth 10% of your final grade in this course. It will be graded on an extra credit / pass / low pass / fail basis. For more details on this kind of grading, see the relevant section in the course syllabus/on the Policies page of this site.