It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for the next installment in The Reading Series. This is when I write to think more deeply about books, why we read, and why literature is so important in our lives. This collection of discussion posts aims to explore different ways we read, what effect they have on us, and why. Today’s topic is…
Reading Fiction for Study
When I was studying for my English Literature GCSE, it was Wuthering Heights that the exam board had chosen for that year’s paper. After reading a synopsis, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to get started, and having never read a classic before, I knew I might struggle with some of the language. I downloaded a Cliff Notes pack, for both Wuthering Heights and Much Ado About Nothing (which was our Shakespeare play study), to have as a companion for understanding fuzzy parts in the plot line, and some of the dialogue and phrasing (which was super helpful and I highly recommend using them). So I had to read Wuthering Heights over the summer before starting to study it to get to grips with what happens, and I really did not enjoy it. It was the only book my mum has ever forced me to sit down and read, and I had to get through 20 pages a day. That doesn’t seem like much, but for me, it was a chore, but the act of studying the story opened some kind of gateway I wasn’t going use until a bit later on. So to cut a long story short, due to hating this book, it put me off studying English Literature at college, which is now one of my biggest regrets. Recently, however, I had the chance to study some of my favourite books for a graphics project, where my chosen collection to base the outcome on was books. This completely changed the way I looked at the 4 books I chose (The Fault in Our Stars, The Book Thief, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and To Kill A Mockingbird), and made me think differently about how I go about reading books.
I really thought that studying the fiction I have come to fall in love with over the years would ruin my experience of them, and therefore prevent me from wanting to reread them in the future, but in fact, my experience was enhanced. The more I learnt about the books as I read them, the further I understood the story and the writers intentions. I know a lot of people have different ways they study a fiction book, but I would just like to share a glimpse at my close reading process.
As soon as I knew I was going to research my favourite stories in more detail, I wanted to reread them and take notes for primary research. I wanted to record my emotional connections with the story, and why I was so in love with these books. So naturally, I bought myself a notebook. An expensive, branded, hardback notebook. This was my motivational tool, and a way of showing I was dedicated to this project. When I started my research process, I made very particular notes of everything I picked up on in the story. It was really tough at first. I hadn’t done anything like this since Wuthering Heights, so I had to refresh my memory a bit. However, once I got into it, the process was extremely enjoyable. I loved discovering new features in these stories I had never picked up on before, and it opened my eyes to new meanings in the books. The symbolism especially was important to me, and this is what I ended up writing about in my final outcome. Some parts of this process were pretty tricky, like when I was so into the story, I was forgetting to look out for things that might trigger some note-taking, and when I was trying to maybe read too closely into certain things, but the process as a whole was enjoyable.
So how has this changed the way I read books now? Of course, not every book I read is for studying, but I have found that going through this process of reading fiction as an act of study, rather than an act of pleasure, has changed the way I think about the stories I read. I feel I can become more involved with the story, and understand more fully what the author’s message is, and what they are trying to communicate through the characters, symbols, setting, and even certain phrases. Particular the practiced authors are more enjoyable to read now I have come to further understand this process of close reading. But is it necessary for us as readers to be able to close read a book, or have to do it all the time? Certainly now, I find myself searching in a story more subconciously, rather than actively seeking meaning through close reading, but I don’t feel it is necessary to do it all the time. It is definitely not something you have to do at all when reading, as it is perfectly acceptable to read and enjoy a story without looking for a deeper meaning. However, for those who want to be more emotionally invested in the stories they read, practicing close reading, and engaging more with what the author is trying to say, can really help to release feelings about a book you weren’t necessarily looking for, and can therefore make the story that little bit more enjoyable.
What do you think? Do you often have to read fiction to study? Let me know how you go about your reading, and your opinions on this post in the comments!
Until next time…