Hey, kids! Here's a fun activity that you can do at home in your spare time to earn cash--and it won't take you more that 15 minutes! Honest!
1. Take a term, any term.
2. Define it narrowly in just the way you want it to be defined, preferably in a way that makes it sound terrible.
3. Take a provocative stance, preferable one that argues against the term.
4. Slap a bunch of ill-informed generalizations and opinions on it. (Logical arguments and evidence aren't necessary. See, I told you it was easy!)
5. Write a 5-paragraph essay.
6. Sit back and wait for the check from The Atlantic to arrive in the mailbox.
While it's true that the metaphor-and-symbol hunt can become drudgery in the wrong hands, and an agonizingly slow pace can suck the life out of any book, "close reading" is more than it's made out to be in the article. If I were being a curmudgeon, I could point out that there's a logical inconsistency in "there would still be plenty of opportunity to point out metaphors and similes"--when, exactly, would you do this if you're speeding through all three volumes of Twilight or whatever "the kids" will "like"?
Somehow I'm reminded of Woody Allen's joke: "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia." Yes, and Moby-Dick is about a white whale, and all hell breaks loose in a Hawthorne novel when some woman starts wearing a piece of bling--a red letter A on her chest.
Close reading isn't the devil. It's a technique that helps students figure out what's going on in a passage. It helps them to learn how to think critically and at multiple levels. It's possible to beat a dead horse about this (cliche alert! metaphor alert!), but even if you hate Brooks & Warren with every fiber of your post-New Criticism body, you have to admit that at some point interpretation comes down to the level of the word--or else how would you read Emily Dickinson?
[Edited to add: Okay, this took me 15 minutes and is a 5-paragraph essay. James Bennet, you can send me my check now.]