Kurt Vonnegut’s Assignment.

Slate has featured a letter from Kurt Vonnegut, sent to his students when he was teaching at the University of Iowa. The letter is actually the form of a writing assignment for the class. There’s some great stuff in there (the term papers should be both “cynical and religious”), including some great advice on reading:

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

A good mantra for any reviewers, too.