How to Read Well
For the bibliophile in all of us.
Okay, so you know how to read. But do you know how to read well?
Being a good reader is just as important as being a good writer, and we here at Shmoop think you need to be the first in order to be the second. This course will turn you from a lover of literature into a student of literature.
But don't worry: you won't lose any love along the way.
Unit 1. Baby Steps; or, The Road to Analysis
If there's one takeaway from this unit, it should be this: everything matters. From the title of the book to the way an author describes his protagonist (and everything in between), reading well means looking at a text from all angles. Once you've got the basics under your belt (what's a metaphor? how do I prep my book for reading?), you'll be ready to get to analyzing (what's that metaphor doing? why do all my marginal notes matter?). You'll dig deep into symbols and themes, titles and endings, content and form. And by the end of the unit, you'll be analyzing everything you see.
Unit 2. Special Topics in Shmoopology
Now that you're an analysis pro, it's time to put those skillz into action. In this unit, you'll take a look at some specific genres: novels, short stories, drama, poetry, and bestsellers (if you can call that last one a genre—more on that later). You'll be using the tools you got in the previous unit to tackle each type of literature.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 8: The Final Showdown: Summary vs. Analysis
You think this is weird?
Try summarizing a corset. (Source)
So you've decided to try your hand at literary analysis. You write what you think is a brilliant interpretation of the end of Shakespeare's great tragedy Hamlet, thinking you're a shoo-in for an A. But then, to your utter dismay, your teacher returns your paper with a giant D on top. Not even a + for good measure.
"I asked for a close reading," your teacher says. "You gave me a book report."
You've just made a Classic Mistake (yes, that comes with capitals): too much summary, not enough analysis.
It's an important distinction to make. A book report might summarize, but an interpretation analyzes. Your teacher might call it an analysis, a close reading, an explication—but whatever you call it, it's about critical thinking.
Each Shmoop literature module features a section for summary and a section for analysis—but analysis is really all over the place on our guides. And it should be all over the place in your brains, too.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.8: Slow Reading: Why the Tortoise Wins the Race
Before we get too deep into the analysis, we want to be sure you're ready to analyze. The first step? Pace yourself.
Ever feel like you have the attention span of a gnat? With Facebook feeds and Twitter trends, it's no wonder we want our information hot and fast. Think about it: when's the last time you actually read an online article from start to finish? Shmoop is a little embarrassed to answer that question, we won't lie.
Unfortunately—or fortunately, as the case may be—literary analysis doesn't reward skimming. It's all about quality reading, not quantity. Back in the day, Ray Bradbury worried that we'd become a "QUICK reading people". Well, it looks like he was right.
But fear not. Academics, teachers, and bibliophiles everywhere are calling for a return to slow reading. Shmoop seconds that call.
Here are a few tips to help you slow down and think about what you're reading. You don't have to do this kind of thing all the time (your friends' Tweets are best read quickly, we'd argue), but it can't hurt to try:
- Put the kibosh on multitasking. Close your laptop. Turn off the TV (once ANTM is over, obviously). Silence your phone. Actually, put your phone in the other room.
- Try to read somewhere you won't be interrupted. Think peace and quiet—i.e., not the food court at the mall.
- Keep a running list of important characters in the front of your book.
- Write down all your prize-worthy observations (about form, content, confusion) in the margins.
- Stop after every chapter and summarize the events of the novel. In your head. Or out loud, if you like the sound of your own voice.
- You might also write down at least one question at the end of every chapter. Remember, questions are the bread and butter of literary analysis.
- Which reminds us… read with a pencil in your hand.
- Underline words that you don't know, and make a note to look them up later.
- If you have to pee, pee. Not in your pants, ideally. But holding it in can only distract you. (And yes, we're giving you advice on your bathroom habits.)
- Last but not least, enjoy yourself. Savor the words. Relish what your reading.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.8a: Pass the Scalpel: How to Prep Your Text for Active Interpretation
Ready to turn yourself into a professional analyzer of literature? It's time to roll up your sleeves and get hands on with the text. We'll let the activity speak for itself.
Let's start easy. Pick a passage from a novel, poem, play—whatever you can get your hands on. If you found it online, print it out—or get your erasable computer-monitor pen. If you have the book, and it's not a loaner, grab it off the bookshelf. Now, get your trusty notebook and a sharpened pencil. (Or a quill pen and inkwell if that's how you roll.)
Read the passage for content, and get physical. Underline words you don't know. Circle phrases don't understand. You can even draw question marks for good measure.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.8b: Got Questions?
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.8c: Plot Summary v. Analysis
- Course Length: 2 weeks
- Grade Levels: 8, 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
- Life Skills
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1