01 May 2007

How to read a novel in 3 not-so-easy steps

STEP 1: Read the novel quickly, beginning to end.

STEP 2: Read the novel slowly, with concentration, paying attention to each and every detail of what’s written and how it’s written, making notes along the way.

Ask yourself if the novel entertained you; if you enjoyed reading it. Which characters did you like, or dislike? And why? Did the plot engage you? Were there discrepancies in the narration of the story, or in the characters? Did the setting seem appropriate? In which time period was the story set? Did the novel touch any specific emotions in you? Did you understand what the novel was about? What was the author’s point of view? Was there a message in the story which you would remember for a long time? Did the novel have a social, cultural, historical or political relevance?

Analyse your answers honestly. Don’t let your personal feelings or beliefs cloud your judgement about the story, or the author.

STEP 3: Read the novel in your own pace, reviewing and revising the notes you’ve made on your previous reading.

See if you have missed anything, or learnt something new. Try to pick up meaningful or relevant quotes and passages from the novel for discussion. Find out what you can about the author. If you can, compare the novel with the author’s other works, or works by other authors in the same genre or period.

Decide what is good or bad about the novel and the author, objectively. Only then will you be able to appreciate the true beauty of the novel.

These three not-so-easy steps in reading a novel were drilled into me by my English teacher: an aging lady with a hooked nose and thin lips, who seldom gave me good marks in English literature; though she never tired of encouraging me to read. I avoided her. I don’t remember ever following her advice.

It’s was much later, in my professional life, when I had to sift through volumes of data on consumers, brands, markets and economic indicators, did I realise the significance of her teaching.


Madhuri said...

It seems a good way to study a subject - but if you started reading books with that thoroughness, it will take away half the joy of reading. I think it is enough to go the third way - and replace the "revise notes" with jotting down an occassional thought if it occurs.

runawaysun said...

@ Madhuri

Ah, but you’re not Miss Green, my English teacher, who used to read 300 novels every year and an equal number of books of anthology, plays and literary criticism.

Miss Green felt a critical appreciation of the novel is what we should all aim for. Hence, the laborious 3-stage process she used to recommend to us.

It was doubly laborious for me because I’m sort of dyslexic and it takes me a long time to read a book, word by word in each sentence.

I believe the first reading, beginning to end, brings the greatest joy. But then, I have my problems.