Close reading happens when a reader bases understanding of a text on small details. The details give the overall “big picture” — main idea or overarching theme. Looking at small details will allow a reader to understand not only the author’s ideas, but also her artistry and craft as a writer.
Observation is key to close reading, so you must take notes, re-read the text, and question it. Read the passage below, and write questions you may have:
I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. . . . I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more.
– Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918), Bk 1, chapter II.