Online | Fiction | Seminar

4-Week Fiction Seminar: Reading as a Critic

What does it take to read like a critic? It's reading for pleasure, but with an extra zhuzh. It shouldn't be like workshopping—these works are complete, not in progress. It takes an analytical mind, careful attention to detail, and the ability to zero in on details that can make the book come alive for a person who hasn’t read it.

In this four session class, taking place over seven weeks, we’ll read and discuss three works of fiction through the lens of book criticism, and conclude with reading the reviews they generated.

We’ll begin with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; not all critics embraced the now-classic feminist dystopia when it was published in 1985. Next up is Deesha Philyaw’s short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award, despite being under-reviewed at the time. Our third book will be Ben Lerner’s 10:04, which was praised by (almost) everyone. For the final session, we’ll read and discuss the various critical takes on these books.

Questions the class will address together:

When art is subjective, is it possible for a critic to get it wrong?

When reading like a critic, how do we think about audience?

How does reviewing short fiction differ from reviewing a novel?

What are the hazards and opportunities of writing criticism across difference?

What does it mean to go against the critical tide?

The class, open to those with all levels of writing experience, will engage in exercises related to the readings. Participants are invited to write a book review and receive written editorial feedback from the instructor.

Participants are expected to have read The Handmaid’s Tale before the first class.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Tools for reading fiction like a critic

- Best practices for approaching different kinds of fiction

- Understanding of different types of critical outlets

- Detailed editorial feedback from the instructor on a book review

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Students will read a book prior to each session and come to class with a few critical exercises completed during the course of their reading.


Week 1: Read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Share and discuss the assigned critical exercises, including close reading.

Week 2: Read The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. Share and discuss critical exercises, and discuss critical approaches to short fiction v. novels.

Week 3: Read 10:04 by Ben Lerner. Share and discuss critical exercises, including trends and resistance.

Week 4: Read review handout packet, discuss packet and the art and role of criticism.

Carolyn Kellogg

Carolyn Kellogg is a writer, editor and critic who has been published widely. Formerly books editor of the LA Times, she served as a judge of the National Book Award in nonfiction in 2019.


“Carolyn Kellogg is my favorite editor: She’s professional, whip-smart, and makes every writer she works with better.”

Adriana E. Ramírez author of the PEN/Fusion winner DEAD BOYS and former LA Times critic at large

“As her in-depth profiles, conversations with acclaimed authors and perceptive and finely tuned reviews of fiction and nonfiction show, Carolyn wears her broad and deep knowledge of books and authors lightly, always putting the reader first.”

Boris Kachka L.A. Times Books Editor and author of HOTHOUSE