Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thoughts on Required Reading, Part 2

Last year, I did a post about my thoughts on required reading. This is a rough follow-up to that.

It's that time of year again - the start of a new semester! I know my school starts later than most, so if you're a student, you've probably already started. But I just started my classes a couple of days ago...which explains why my Friday post is going up on a day that's definitely not Friday. (Oh, well.) It also means that it's the perfect time to talk about required reading again.

Quick recap of the last post: I was required to reread PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which I'd originally read on my own and loved, and hated it. Update: last semester, I was required to reread THE GREAT GATSBY, another book that I'd originally loved. But this time, the required reread made me love the book even more. But I can't put my finger on anything that made rereading the two books different, except for the fact that I already knew I wanted to reread Gatsby at some point. I guess it just goes to show that having something be required doesn't mean it's not fun to read.

After I finished rereading Gatsby, I was assigned THE PROFESSOR'S HOUSE by Willa Cather, a book that I'd never even heard of before the class. And I'll be frank: I wasn't liking it. It didn't seem to have a plot, I couldn't really distinguish the characters from each other, and it was incredibly boring.

Naturally, I went into class discussion with low expectations. I didn't like the book, so I didn't see why I'd like anything to do with the book. But then, something weird happened: as I listened to my professor's explanation of the book and heard ideas from my classmates, I actually liked the book more. I didn't love it, but it really made me appreciate the book more and understand why so many other people like it.

Which got me thinking about something that I know I'm not the first to discuss: what is the role of analysis in enjoying a book? I'm thinking specifically about a school setting, but I'm sure it can apply to leisure reading as well. I used to think that breaking a book down and analyzing it just made it really hard to get through and destroyed all hope of actually enjoying a book. Now, I'm not so sure.

I think that, depending on the circumstances, analysis can both help and hurt someone's enjoyment of a book. This is probably different for everyone, but for me, the kind of analysis that really helps me like something is mostly a matter of clarification. If the analysis is something that can help me understand the book better, then great, I want to know about it. When I start to have problems is when you dig through the book with a metaphorical magnifying glass, searching for subtle patterns and hidden meanings. I'm sure some people love things like that, but I'm perfectly happy leaving them alone.

What do you think about required reading? Has analyzing a book ever made you like it more? What are some of the books you've been required to read in school? Tell me in the comments!


  1. I agree that analysis can be either helpful or hurtful, depending on what's discussed! I've only ever done required readings (in terms of novels, that is) for a class called Genre Fiction. We read an Agatha Christie novel once, which I enjoyed, but analyzing it for an essay made me see different sides of it that makes me love it even more. I think I'm lucky in that I didn't have classics as required readings in school, so I'm free to like/dislike them on my own terms!

    1. I've never read any Agatha Christie! I really want to read some of her books, though. And I'm really glad that you liked analyzing it! Analysis has definitely helped me see parts of novels that I never would have gotten to otherwise - but sometimes, I just want to read something casually and can't bring myself to care about those things.

  2. I think part of this, for me at least, has to do with age and experience. I HATED breaking down books in high school. But in college, I actually found it interesting (I also didn't do as much of it, so maybe I was less sick of it?) I LIKE looking for themes while I read, and I LIKE noticing parallels in writing (in POV, in early/later, etc). I don't enjoy breaking down things like imagery and symbolism. So I guess for me at least it depends on the book, and it depends on the discussion. If the analysis is centered more on the kinds of topics I enjoy thinking about --- the story crafting and development itself --- rather than the things that I DON'T enjoy, I'm all for it!

    (As I'm writing this, I'm noticing a terrible relationship between what I'm interested in analyzing and what I'm good/bad at writing. I hate discussing imagery and symbolism, and I gloss over character/setting descriptions when I write. I also skim those bits when I read. I think we may have discovered the problem there!)

    ~ Michelle @ FaerieFits

    1. I've definitely had to break down a lot less literature in college, too! And we haven't spent as long on any individual book, which means that I can't get tired of them, either. I definitely agree that some kinds of analysis are more interesting than others! I don't like symbolism either. If it's something pretty obvious, then it can be fun to track it, but the more hidden it is the more I think that my teacher or professor is just making things up. I had a teacher who kept focusing on birds in Macbeth - loved the play, loved the teacher, but I was over that by the end of act 1.

      Those parallels with writing are really interesting! I don't write fiction, so I'd never have even thought about something like that!

  3. I think that analysis makes me appreciate a book more. Sometimes a book that doesn't spark much interest in me can seem much better when I see what others appreciate about it---but there's no guarantee it will work that way!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. That's exactly what happened to me when I read The Professor's House! I'm glad that you've had books that you've ended up liking more through analysis. It's always nice when a book goes above your expectations for one reason or another!