November 3, 2011

Literary Blog Hop, November 3-6, 2011

The "Literary Blog Hop" is a monthly feature of the ladies over at The Blue Bookcase.  I think this is the only meme that I still try and regularly participate in.  The questions are always thought-provoking and tend to contribute to my overall desire and efforts to becoming a better writer, reader, and blogger.  I genuinely hope that Christina, Connie, and Ingrid continue to support this meme going forward.  Anyway, this month's question is the following--
"To what extent do you analyze literature?  Are you more analytical in your reading if you know that you're going to review the book?  Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your reading experience?"
This question does sort of fall right in my 'wheel-house', as I really have become an analytical reader over the years.  For me, this has been a learned behavior too.  First, I have to say that I have been a voracious reader from the very first moment I learned to read.  Having said that though, it wasn't until much later that I ever really gave any thought to what or how I was reading.  I was, I guess, more of a 'qualitative' reader, in that I either liked the book, or I didn't.  It was probably in college where I first learned to approach my reading experience in a more analytical fashion, and this was probably more a function of having to actually identify the important stuff and understand it well enough to write a paper and/or pass a test.  Even though I was a geology major, I took history and English classes too, and I learned how to become a more analytical reader and a critical thinker (and I think that analysis goes hand-in-glove with critical thinking).

With that bit of background out of the way, here are my answers to Christina's questions. I think I pretty much analyze and think about everything I choose to read these days.  If a book has an Introduction, I read it.  I read and consider footnotes and endnotes.  I'm an inveterate scribbler, and am always underlining key sentences, or making marginalia notes.  I tend to write brief notes about important topics, issues, plot points, character assessments, and so forth, on an end page at the back of the book.  I use these notes and marginalia when assembling my review of the book (either here on my blog, or on my Goodreads page).  I avidly look for literary connections and relationships in what I am reading, which has allowed me as an individual reader to begin weaving, if you will, a tapestry of the literature I've read from the ancient classics to the great authors and poets of our modern times.  I'm now able to read Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and 'hear' the gentle strains of Homer and The Odyssey singing to me.  This simply would not have been possible fifteen or twenty years ago.  Each book would have stood on its own, and I probably never could have made the connection.

The ability to analyze what I'm reading, and discern overall authorial intent, has absolutely increased and intensified my overall reading experience and enjoyment.  When I do find an author I like, I tend to immerse myself in their works and read as much of their oeuvre as is practicably possible.  I have done this with Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the ancient Greek classicists, A.S. Byatt, Stephen Erikson, Cormac McCarthy, Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and so many other wonderful authors.  Now I know why these are considered the authors of great literature, and generally I can tell you why in each instance.

As a final example of the empowerment that a reader can get from literary analysis and critical thinking, I'll use my experience with A.S. Byatt's beautiful novel, Possession (one of my all-time favorite novels!).  The first time I read the novel, I skipped reading the epigraphs leading off the chapters in their entirety, and in most cases skimmed or ignored all of the poetry embodied within the text.  In other words, I casually discarded 25-30% of the entire book!  Amazingly enough, I still really liked the book!  I picked it up again a few years later, and started over.  I dug into it with a passion, and ended up 'deciphering' and understanding the mythology that Byatt was putting forth, and how it related to the novel's plots and characters, and her views associated with academic research and literary criticism.  Because of this extra effort on my part, Byatt has become one of my favorite modern authors.  More importantly, I gained an undying love for much of the poetry of the Victorian Era, particularly that of Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning--and it was Byatt that led me there!  Again, all of this simply could not have been possible a few years ago, as I wasn't reading analytically, and I certainly wasn't engaging in any critical thinking.  Now, I go into a new book with my eyes wide open and my brain switched on, and what a difference it makes!



  1. Loved reading your answer, it was very thoughtful. It's s tricky question. I try to analyse things, but I feel I am very lacking in any skills or knowledge of how to do so. My book reviews are always more detailed than I loved it! or I hated it! but the quality of the content is a little debatable :-)

  2. I love the example you give with Byatt's novel, and how you emphasise the amount we can glean for ourselves from analytical reading.

    I've a question though regarding something you've mentioned briefly. You've mentioned Robert Jordan among what you consider some of the literary greats. I was just wondering why him? All the others in your list are perfectly understandable, but I personally found Jordan a pain after his fifth or sixth book. So, I'm just wonder what literary merits you've observed in his works?...

    [ are referring to The Wheel of Time writer, aren't you?]

  3. Risa, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I must sheepishly admit that it is Robert Jordan of TWoT 'fame'. I know, I know, and I largely agree, his novels aren't great literature, but I love that series so darn much! Similarly, Steven Erikson's 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' series, probably isn't top-drawer literature, but it is superbly written, and has countless literary and anthropological/archaeological connections. Okay, so now you know my weakness--big fat, multi-volume fantasy fiction series. Seriously though, Erikson is probably the very best in that category, but I'll always have a soft-spot for Jordan's WoT series. ;-) Cheers! Chris

  4. I am so impressed with the amount of analysis you do. And it's wonderful that really digging into Possession lead you to some great poets (especially Tennyson).

  5. Thanks for a great response to the prompt! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, especially the idea that analytical reading allows you to make connections between different times, places, and authors. I hadn't thought about that.

    I seem to be continually reading about Possession everywhere. Really need to get to it soon!

  6. This answer if proof of your ability to think critically! I find critical thinking incredibly difficult. I hope to be where you are eventually, as a reader. It's where I'm aiming, even if I'm not there yet. (I always read the intros, etc in books.) :-)

  7. Jillian, what a lovely compliment! Thank you so much, that means a lot to me. I also have to say that you're pretty much there already, as I think your writing is very articulate and incredibly insightful. I enjoy your passion and enthusiasm as you continue your journey exploring literature, music, and the visual arts. You are definitely on the right track! Cheers!

  8. "The ability to analyze what I'm reading, and discern overall authorial intent, has absolutely increased and intensified my overall reading experience and enjoyment"

    Great. I just agree with you. Glad I've found all of you participating in this blog hop for the first time. Interesting discussion!

  9. Wow, I love this response Chris. Nice personal history blended with your description of your approach.
    I am completely taken in by the idea of reading the complete works of individual authors - my "reader's panic" (i.e. the desire to cover a lot of ground) still gets in the way of doing this as much as I'd like but I'm learning to take this approach. After exploring Hardy in that manner, I truly see the value in it. Your list of explored authors is nothing short of impressive.

    I'm a scribbler and underliner too. Often a marked up book turns into a sentimental object for me. :)