Back to the Lake: A Reader and Guide, 3rd edition


Author: Thomas Cooley

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Publication year: 2017

Price: $52.30 (paper book) | $45.00 (e-book)

Textbook Organization

Chapter 1 “Good writers are good readers”

  • offers a guide to students about principles of analytical reading and introduces the basic steps of reading critically.

Chapter 2 “Putting in your oar”

  • helps students enter the academic conversation by finding out what’s been said about the topic they are planning to write. Students will learn how to synthesize ideas, present their ideas as a response to those of others, and consider other views by considering the counter arguments. Using these methods, student writers will be able to emphasize the significance of their ideas by thinking about why their idea matters.

Chapter 3 “Using the methods in academic writing”

  • presents an overview of how the methods discussed in this book can be used in various modes of academic writing, including report, position paper, memoir, proposal, and critical analysis.

Chapter 4 “The writing process”

  • shows an overview of a student’s writing process. The invention process is referred to as ‘generating ideas’ in this chapter. Students will find “freewriting, looping, listing, brainstorming, and clustering” as a way to organize their ideas. Then the chapter introduces the methods of revision, editing, and proofreading.

 Chapter 5 “Writing paragraphs”

  • offers guidance on writing paragraphs, with a particular focus on writing effective topic sentences and transitions to develop coherent paragraphs in the essay. This chapter instructs students how to write a good introductory and concluding paragraphs.

Chapter 6 to 14

  • while the previous chapters have offered basic methods of writing, the following chapters (from the sixth to the fourteenth) offer practical guidelines for students to think about specific ways to write different genre. In these chapters, students learn genres that range from narratives, descriptive writing, process analysis, position paper, to argumentative essay.

Chapter 15

  • shows how the writing methods can be seen in the exemplary essays. Students are asked to analyze which method(s) have been used in the essays and respond to the writer’s idea in a variety of formats, including position paper, rhetorical analysis, or literacy narrative.

Textbook Features

  • “For close reading”
    • Asks students if they understood the specific points of the essay.
  • “Strategies and structures”
    • Asks students “how” and “why” the authors chose particular strategies and structures to deliver their ideas.
  • “Thinking about language”
    • Asks students what kinds of word choice are used in the essay.
  • “For Writing”
    • In the sixth to the fourteenth chapter, students are given different sets of writing exercises.
  • “Suggestions for writing” 
    • Provides specific points the students can focus on each essay in the chapter. For example, in chapter 7 “Description,” students get to read five essays that use description, but the works differ slightly due to the difference in purpose and audience. The book gives students the key points in each essay to facilitate their understanding.  
  • “Student example”
    • Students’ essays are given as a guideline for students to think about particular genre. In addition to the student essays, experienced writers’ works are also included in each chapter.
  • “Online quizzes on the readings”
    • The official website of W.W. Norton provides online quizzes for students.
  • “Keywords”
    • Important keywords are written in bold.  
  • “Glossary/Index”
    • Offers definitions of all the key terms discussed in the book. Users can find further information in a list of pages.
  • “MLA citation guideline”
    • Reflects the new guidelines of the eighth edition.


  1. Reading materials: The reading materials are very well-written and they are categorized by different themes, ranging from campus life and education, cultures and ethnicities, ethics and religion, gender, language and identity, to science and technology.
  2. Close reading exercises: Reading interpretation questions are designed to help students think critically.
  3. Electronic edition: The e-book edition allows students to highlight and take notes with their electronic gadgets. In addition to this, W.W. Norton offers relevant reading resources and exercise worksheets in their official website. (
  4. Pedagogy: In each chapter, the “for writing” section offers effective ways to expand the students’ ideas. Following these guidelines will help the students engage with the text more easily.


  1. Paper quality: Students may have difficulty in writing notes with pencil or pen. The surface is too glossy.
  2. Price: The price of the book is too expensive. While the reading materials are very rich in their quality, it would not be worth buying the entire book because the class would not be able to cover the materials within 15 weeks of English 110 course.
  3. Structure: The different modes of academic writing are divided into nine chapters. While it is good for students to delve deeper into each genre, the categorization becomes too specific at times.
  4. Content: The editors should have used table or chart to enhance visual understanding. Since everything is written in paragraphs, it is difficult to capture the essential points.
  5. Reading materials: The book contains too many reading materials. While each work has their distinctive quality, the students may be overwhelmed by the volume of the works.
  6. Design: The margin of each page is very narrow; students will find it hard to take notes and write some ideas on the book.