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ENGL 383: Post-1965 Ethnic Literature

Reading List Assignment: New Directions in American Literature

This assignment asks you to develop a recommended reading list of new or recent literary works relevant to a theme, topic, or aesthetic/structural dimension of American literature raised in the course. To identify literary works for your list, you'll need to gather and consult a variety of book reviews.

This guide will help you find contemporary, professional reviews appearing in major newspapers, magazines and journals, using library databases, print resources, and websites. 

Definitions: What is a book review?

Book reviews typically offer an opinion of a book’s quality or value rather than an in-depth analysis of the work, and tend to be shorter than literary criticism. Reviews are usually written by critics at or near the time of a book’s publication.

Literary criticism is the scholarly evaluation and critical analysis of literature. It can be written at any time, even centuries after the publication of the literature it critiques. This critical assessment is often found in scholarly journals or books and usually changes and develops over time. 

Why are we looking for book reviews?

Reviews are important tools for evaluating newer works and generally try to answer the question "Should I read this book?" Book reviews can also give you a sense of the initial reaction to, and reception of, a book in its cultural moment.


Read the following book review of Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones published in Callaloo. What kind of information is contained in the review? What is the author's evaluation of Ward's text?

Johnson, Andy. "Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (review)." Callaloo, vol. 39 no. 2, 2016, pp. 493-495. 


Your recommended reading list should consist of these parts:

Complete citation for each literary text


  • Provide an overview of the book in a few sentences. Don't just summarize the plot! What is the essence of the work? Its major themes? Style? What are its most interesting characteristics? 


  • Evaluate the overall quality of the book. What are the book's strengths and limitations? What is its contribution to contemporary American literature? How does it relate to other texts on your list? 


  • Assess the significance of the text within your list. Does it provide readers with new insights about your topic?

Write the annotation in complete sentences. If you quote text from one of your sources, cite it. The average length of an annotation is about 100-150 words.