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Incoming Students

Orientation Reading Assignment

Please read “In Defense of Distraction,” written by Sam Anderson, the book reviewer and an occasional essayist for New York Magazine, where this essay first appeared. Anderson is known for his “imitative reviews,” which copy the style of his subjects.  

A careful reading of the essay reveals that Anderson is both defending and attacking the culture of distraction in which we all now live. Rather than take a stand on the issues (don’t agree or disagree), write a paragraph or two, typed and double-spaced, on a sentence or short passage that you think best reveals Anderson’s way of thinking on the subject.

Be sure to talk about key language from the quotation, explaining why it reveals what you say it reveals. You may, if you wish, include an example from your own life experience that the Anderson essay caused you to consider. Be prepared to discuss this reading during Orientation weekend, and be prepared to hand in your writing at the Sunday Orientation meeting with your first-year seminar professor/advisor.

Reading Questions

You are not required to address any of the questions below; they are included here to suggest ways you might focus your paragraph(s) on some aspect of the thinking in the essay.

1. How does the essay function as a “defense” of distraction, as the title invites us to consider? What passage best demonstrates this defense, and what do you take this passage to mean (in your own words)?

2. Distraction is obviously a source of concern in the essay, however it may be defended. What passage in the essay best illustrates what the writer is worried about, and why? Be sure to explain what you take the key words in the passage to mean

3. How does the ethos (the kind of persona a writer creates to tell his or her readers about the subject) of the piece reveal Anderson’s attitude toward both his subject and his audience? Anchor your answer to a few sentences in the essay that you find particularly revealing. What do they reveal?

4. Often the best way to uncover matters of interest in thinking about a reading is to approach it indirectly, a sideways glance rather than a head-on confrontation. How, for example, does the essay make use of the Boston Molasses Disaster, which is mentioned several times? What are the various functions this example serves in helping Anderson achieve his ends?

Direct link to the reading: http://nymag.com/news/features/56793/