How to Read Novels, a la Shmoop.
Reading a novel can be a daunting task. Some stories are hard to follow… …some books are huge… …and some novels contain a cast of characters
so large that we’d need a spreadsheet to keep track of who’s who. But just because a novel is difficult to read
doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read it, especially as there are some simple steps we can follow
to improve our novel-reading experience. Let’s take it from the top. The first step
on our “How to Read Novels” checklist is to pick a novel… …or have our English teacher pick it for us. Let’s face it. Sometimes, we get no say
in what we read. If the curriculum calls for us to read The Brothers Karamazov
then it’s The Brothers Karamazov we’re going to have to slog through. However, if we get to choose a novel to read
for class, or even if we’re just looking for something to peruse in our spare time… …we can improve our chances of enjoying
the story if we put a little thought in first. Um, that didn’t really require any thought, did it? We should ask ourselves: Who’s our favorite
author? What’s our favorite genre? Have we read a book review or heard a recommendation
that caught our attention? If we’re looking to get away from the familiar
and expand our horizons by reading fiction that’s new to us… …we can refer to various lists, like those
containing the titles that have won the Man Booker Prize or the Hugo Award, for inspiration.
Okay, second item on the checklist: Respect the reading experience. Reading is fun, but it can be a lot of work,
too, especially if someone is expecting us to produce a paper about what we’ve read. So, give the novel and the task of reading
it some respect. Read the novel well in advance of when the assignment is due… …because we might have to read that sucker
twice. Also, while some people have no trouble reading
on a plane or on the train… …or in a house with a mouse… …others need a set block of time in a quiet
place with no distractions to get needed reading done. Furthermore, when we read, we should ditch
the laptop… …and the phone… …and any other technical devices that might
interfere with our concentration. The third item on our “How to Read Novels”
checklist is to be prepared. This doesn’t mean we need to have a survival
kit with us when we read in case the world comes to a sudden end… …but rather that there are some tools we
should have close to hand, in case we need to mark a passage or take notes as we read.
Pencils and highlighters are our friends. While underlining sentences and scribbling
in the novel’s margins work great… …we should have some paper and/or notecards
nearby, in case we come across something in the novel that inspires more extensive note-taking. Depending on the novel, we might also want
to have a dictionary… …of the paper variety… …handy. Yes, we can always Google a definition, but Googling while reading leads to surfing the Internet… …and surfing the Internet leads to the dark side. So, we’ve got our novel. We’ve settled
into our favorite armchair with a bowl of popcorn and a caffeinated beverage. We’ve
got our pencils at the ready. Time to crack this baby open and get reading. This leads us to the next item on our checklist:
Read first, analyze later. Say we’re expected to write a five-page
paper on the development of a particular character in a novel. We might be tempted to mark anything and everything
about that character that we come across… …which means we’d have a lot of irrelevant
nonsense to plow through when it actually comes time to write our paper.
Resist temptation! Read a chapter at a time. Re-read a chapter if necessary. Think about
the chapter’s content. Then, go back and underline what’s important or put a quick
note or quote on paper. If we read and actually think about what we’re
reading… …rather than getting trigger-happy with a highlighter… …we won’t just have a better understanding
of the novel and our paper topic, but we’ll have an easier time actually writing the paper.
The fifth item on our “How to Read Novels” checklist is to look for the meaty stuff as
we read… …the kind of items we can whip out during
a classroom discussion so we look totally awesome. For example, we might see something that appeals
to us in a novel about a particular character or setting. We might like how the author
uses imagery in a scene… …or the author’s syntax throughout the story. We might identify an overarching theme to
the novel. In other words, look for things in the story
that set the novel apart from other novels… …and the author apart from other authors.
The sixth item on our checklist is to remember how we feel when we finish a novel. Some of us may bawl hysterically at the end
of a book… …or thank our lucky stars that we survived
reading that pile of horse apples. Our emotions can be key to identifying an
important aspect of the book, one we feel strongly enough about to produce a really
compelling paper. Here’s the seventh item on our “How to
Read Novels” checklist: There is no right way to read a novel. Some people can read a novel once and be done.
Others need to read the novel two or three times to make sense of it. Some people can dog-ear ten or twelve pages
and produce amazing papers. Others need to produce copious and detailed notes on a book
before they can write a single sentence. In other words, there is no one way to read
and process a novel. We all have different methods that work for us because, duh: we’re
all different people. This brings us to the last item on our checklist:
Practice, practice, practice. The more novels we read, the more likely we
are to find an analytical process that works for us. We’ll be able to more quickly identify the
important components of a novel. Also, the more novels we read, the more books
we’ll have to compare and contrast against whatever story we’re reading… …and that kind of information can often
come in handy on an English assignment. Now…go forth and read. What a novel idea.