How I read…

January 14, 2015

Now that I’m taking my blog seriously, I have found myself reflecting on what has happened to my reading as a result. Am I behaving any differently from before, when I was a teacher?

I’m still reading as widely, and as randomly as I used to: there will be a series of books on a similar theme or by the same author, and then I will strike out at a tangent. You can see that from the sequence of this blog. I think, however, that I’m applying critical skills more sharply and widely. Studying literature, which I suppose I must date from when I studied English Literature at A level, involved gradually developing skills: this continued as I went to university, and then did post-graduate research, and afterwards went into teaching. These skills originally were focused on my reading of prose, poetry and drama, and involved exploring and understanding how a writer works to achieve effects, and evaluating her/his success. Understanding context was also crucial, at least in the ways I was trained.

These skills have never left me (and I always used to be able to assure students who had taken their study of literature to a certain level and were then moving on to something different, that they had a reader’s toolkit for life), but I now find myself applying them to everything I read, whether literature or not. Evaluating and assessing a writer’s use of the language and their ability to communicate meaning effectively, as well as judging the quality of their argument, is what it is all about.

So now, I’m finding myself thinking rather more deliberately as I read, and often jotting things down that occur to me; I reflect on my reaction, on what pleases or annoys me, and consider why. I have often been asked whether having studied literature spoils my enjoyment of what I read, and occasionally students have complained that analysing and studying a book too much spoils it for them; I’ve never felt that to be the case myself, as no matter what skills or analysis I bring to bear on a text, that innocent first reading is always there, the desire to know ‘what happens?’ and the thrill of getting to the end. Even in a non-fiction text, there is still that discovery of newness, and the wondering whether the whole will contribute in a helpful way to my knowledge and understanding.

I love reading: somehow, it connects me to places, people and worlds I’d never otherwise encounter, and I feel more human because of this.

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3 Responses to “How I read…”

  1. kirstwrites Says:

    Thanks, i think this a really interesting post. I’m wondering, having failed to get my head round the concept of critical theory during my English Literature degree, what kind of critical or analytical skills you use when reading? Sorry if that’s a really daft question, or one that doesnt have a short answer, but I’ve always felt that I should be getting more out of what i read than the basic “did I enjoy this book or not?”

    Like

    • litgaz Says:

      Not a daft question at all, but not one that is quickly answerable…but I’ll have a go. Two different things to consider and evaluate:

      1 – What is the writer saying? assuming a novel, look at plot, character and themes. Is the plot good, are there gaps, flaws, things which might have been done better? Are the characters convincing, well created and developed? How do you respond to them? Are there ways in which the writer manipulates the ways you respond to them? Themes/ ideas: are there things the writer wants to have you think about as you read? Again, is your response being shaped? Are you happy about this?

      2 – How does the writer say it? Here you’re thinking about aspects of the writer’s craft How does s/he use language – is it simple, straightforward, or complex? Long or short sentences? What sort of writing is it – does the writer rely on dialogue mainly to move things along, or is there a good deal of description? How much is mere narrative, i.e. the writer just telling you the story, rather than leading you or allowing you to discover things for yourself, through skilful use of dialogue, description &c? Similarly, character can be developed in different ways…

      Your personal response is fine but ask yourself further questions: why did I like/ not like this particular thing/ person/ event in the story? Remember that a first read will always be shaped by your need to find out what happens at the end; if you want to analyse more fully, it will be easier on a second or subsequent read, assuming the book is worth it…

      I hope some of that is helpful, and not too basic.

      Like

      • kirstwrites Says:

        Not too basic at all, thank you! In fact it strikes me that i would find it quite challenging to answer any of those questions about any of my recent reading matter. I’ve been guilty for a long time of approaching reading in the same passive, “take your brain out” way i approach watching TV, just something to kill time. You’ve made me realise that if I’m serious about developing my writing, I also need to develop my reading skills. Thanks again!

        Like


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