Hey, you guys! As I told you all last week when I introduced my Little Blogger Christine to you via a fun little Q&A we did, Christine wrote a guest post for our blog this week and you guys finally get to read it! I hope you enjoy it and make sure to check out Christine’s blog and leave her a nice comment and follow her!
When I was in high school I was convinced that I’d skip college and go frolicking off to New York City to write novels. Of course, I did end up in New York, but I also ended up going to college. I studied English literature (among other things) for four years, and ever since, strangers and friends alike ask me why I majored in English. Most of them wonder out loud if I’ll end up teaching—despite my insistence that I just don’t really like kids all that much. Why get a degree, they point out, if I’m not even going to use it for a career?
We have this idea that higher education—college or university—needs to serve some sort of purpose. People get a degree so that they can then acquire a better job, right? And while I think it’s perfectly fine to go that route, I was never laboring under any sort of delusion about my degree. I knew I wasn’t going to get a job “in my field” because, quite frankly, I never wanted an English-related job. My whole life, all I’ve wanted is to write novels.
Still, I have never once regretted getting a B.A. in English. Why? Because learning to read critically—and reading classic works of literature—has helped me become the reader and writer that I am today.
I think most of us—especially book bloggers—read for fun. We read because we love stories, whether they’re realistic or fantastical. One thing my English major taught me, though, is that reading critically can actually be fun. In fact, most bloggers and reviewers read critically without even realizing it!
How does one read critically? To me, reading critically is simply being an active reader rather than a passive one. It can involve acknowledging literary devices (how the author does what they do), thinking about what the author is trying to say with the book, or evaluating how well the author accomplishes their goal in writing the story. Reading critically simply means engaging with the book.
Why we should read critically
Reason #1: Reading critically teaches you to take notes while you read—which can really come in handy if you’re a reviewer. I honestly don’t know how people write reviews without writing anything down beforehand. Maybe I’m just compulsively organized, but I like to keep a notepad of my thoughts while I’m reading—even if it’s just on my phone. I’m also really into annotating, whether it’s physically writing in the book or highlighting in my kindle.
Reason #2: Reading critically helps you find problematic content and warn future readers. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading the kind of book that helps me escape my own head for a few hours. But by reading critically, by searching the author’s words on the page as well as the larger meaning, we can better assess whether or not to recommend the book to other people—and potentially save someone from reading something that misrepresents them.
Reason #3: Reading critically helps even non-writers gain appreciation for the craft. I realize not everyone knows about literary devices, but they’re often not as complicated as they sound. They sneak between the lines of a story, whether it’s flowery description, an extended metaphor, or more complex literary devices. One of the best things about looking for these aspects of a story is that it helps you appreciate how hard writers work to craft an amazing piece of writing. Ultimately, reading critically makes reading more fun!
Reason #4: If you’re a writer, everything you read can potentially help you grow in your writing. Even if by “writer” you mean “occasional book blogger,” reading critically can help you learn how to write better. Take this quote by William Faulkner: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” By reading less than amazing books, we learn how we don’t want to write. And every time you read a 5-star book, you’re learning a little bit about how you want to write.
Why I still read classic literature
Since graduating college five (!!!) years ago, I don’t read as many classics as I used to. I do try to incorporate them into my yearly reading goals. This year, my goal is to read 6 books published within the last 40 years (don’t ask me why 40 specifically).
I still read classics, not because they’re inherently “superior” to other genres, but because timeless works of literature can go a long way in informing my writing. By reading the greats, I can admire what these authors accomplished and maybe learn a few things. It also helps me think about the ways society has changed—and the ways human nature has ultimately remained the same.
Reading classic literature can be daunting. I’m convinced the only way I was able to grasp certain books I read in college is because I had amazing professors who made sense out of my nonsense. Reading with a group can be that much more powerful. Consider doing a buddy read if you’re going to dive into a book that’s outside your comfort zone—and don’t be afraid to reach out to me on my blog or Twitter, because I’d love to buddy read with anyone!
The top 5 classic/literary authors I recommend
- Toni Morrison, Jazz
- Willliam Faulkner, Light in August
- Alice Walker, The Color Purple
- Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice or Emma
- Gabriel García Márquez, One Thousand Years of Solitude
How do you read critically? Do you have any favorite classic novels or authors? Let’s talk in the comments!