How Should We Read Literature?
(Reading Strategies for Introduction to Literature Courses)
Step #1 -- Preview the Selection:
Are there multiple sections or chapters within the selection?
Are the sections numbered? Are there "white spaces" between sections?
How long is the selection?
Step #2 -- Read the Author's Biographical Information / the Headnote:
What are the "major life events"?
What are the major works the author has written? What is s/he most known for?
What are the author's "major themes or trends"?
What literary "categories" does this writer fall into?
Step #3 -- Read the Selection:
If it is short (less than 10 pages), read it once quickly to enjoy it, then read it again more slowly to "study" it.
If it is longer than 10 pages, read it more slowly and carefully, enjoying it and studying it at the same time.
For fiction, pay attention to the characters, the narrator (point of view), the setting, the plot, and anything else that catches your notice.
For poetry, pay attention to the speaker, the situation, the general topic, the structure, and anything else that catches your notice.
Don't highlight! Instead, underline important lines, circle key words, dates, or names, and make short notes in the margins.
Step #4 -- After Reading:
Review the selection (skimming) and make notes in your notebook.
Make lists of characters and their characteristics.
Note settings -- places, times, dates, seasons, etc.
Sketch out the plot and/or the structure.
Write down questions or things you don't understand.
Step #5 -- Come to Class Prepared to Talk:
Expect a quiz at any time.
Be willing to ask questions and venture answers or guesses.
Contribute "quality" maybe more so than "quantity" -- help us move along and dig deeper.
Step #6 -- Take Notes in Class:
Things that you find especially interesting or that matter to you in some special way.
Write down things that are said about specific passages in the text -- e.g., style, language, syntax, vocabulary (diction), imagery, verb tense, etc.
Write down things that are said about the text as a whole -- e.g., themes, morals, lessons, overall messages, etc.
Write down the various "interpretations" of a passage or entire work -- and, note which one(s) you prefer or make the most sense to you, based on how you read the text.