I enjoyed being an English major back in the late 1980s but one thing that stuck out was how professors relied on breaking books down by an almost formulaic manner. They would focus on things like irony, metaphor, foreshadowing, and symbolism, which makes sense but I always thought books as a whole are greater than the sum of these specific pieces. Books are not mathematical puzzles or scientific papers – they are bursts of creativity, emotion, insight, and vision. But as I came across a list of literary elements, writing techniques, and a glossary of terms for reading literature, I was thrust back in time to where teachers would emphasize things like form, imagery, and protagonist. It all seems too mechanical.
Sure books are composed of words of the English language and generally follow the rules of grammar. Yes, many books can be broken down by certain techniques and elements – there are plots, themes, narrators, characters, setting, climax, dialogue, etc. Bu aren’t books more than a collection of such devices? Symbolism, tone, turning points, allegory, hyperbole, satire, and paradox may all be present – but they don’t do the entire book justice.
The science of deconstructing books can overanalyze things and put too much emphasis on the wrong things. Even though there’s great value in studying works of literature through some kind of diagnostic checklist, we must be careful to look at the big picture before we surf in the micro world of books.
How do we tend to examine books today?
We still teach literature in schools, universities, and grad school programs and use things like Spark Notes and other tools to dissect classics. But what about casual or social reading – who is analyzing books? Do book clubs, usually formed by neighbors and friends, really know how to put a book under a microscope? How about book reviewers? Do we read books as adults the way we read them as high school and college students?
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could read books while in our 40’s and 50’s, not only with life and book reading experiences under our belts, but with the help of a teacher or guide who can examine a book the way teachers tried to do when students lacked perspective and a big enough exposure to a variety of literature?
I enjoy the books I read today and am glad I’m not being given a test afterwards, but I do miss having class discussions about a book. Maybe I need to attend Adult Ed classes.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015
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