Get More Reading Done!
January 21, 2011 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Seeking strategies to get all reading done within allotted time without sacrificing close reading on literature.

Have the regular course load (5 courses per semester) as a Lit. Major/Minor:


- Shakespeare play × 5
- 500-page novel × 10
- a number of selected poetry, prose and drama from 3 different anthologies from different time period (hundreds of pages)

If possible, I'd also to draw pleasure from reading instead of feeling trapped in the getting-it-done-for-school mode.

Thank you.
posted by easilyconfused to Education (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming this is undergrad: there is no law stating that you have to read everything, especially with this sort of course load in a semester's time. Let some things fall to the wayside. If this is a regular semester, you're not going to cover all of this, and depending on what the standards for grading and discussion are, you don't have to even know most of this stuff to contribute in class.

Read up on summaries, divine the Big Concepts -- you'll should know what your professor wants to concentrate on: some will even specifically tell you "we'll be discussing the role of women in Novel X" -- and you're golden. When it is time to write papers, I can almost assure you that you will be asked to pick severalt texts you've written, rather than have to write a paper encompassing five Shakesperian plays and ten novels.

On the other hand, if this is a graduate/PhD load, ignore everything I just wrote.
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, no one reads everything as a Lit Major. You read enough to have a great sampling and close read the works you plan to use for papers. This will be a great opportunity for you to develop the ability to skim a work and retain enough to have an informed opinion. Think of your selections as a buffet, try everything but fill up on what you like.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:55 AM on January 21, 2011

Two ideas here: skim some, and choose your reading place well. My bona fides: I am an English major from Boston College & Tufts, and I still own a *lot* of books. :7)

I made it through an 18th C. British Novel class -- including the positively Himalayan unabridged "Clarissa" -- and another upper-division class on Martin Luther requiring a two-foot tower of dense theological books, by picking my battles. I skimmed some stuff, and read every word of other materials. You'll need to get a feel for the professor and the specific work, but about halfway through each semester you should be aware of just how closely you're going to need to do the rest of the reading.

Second, read where you're not going to doze off or get distracted. At one point Senior year, I read standing next to my upper bunk with the mattress shoved back, so that when I fell asleep my face would hit the metal edge. (Yes, I was that overtired. :7) This also means that taking your laptop and book to the coffee shop will not get it done because you're likely to procrastinate or get interrupted. Take the minimum (e.g., just your book but not your laptop) and go somewhere that your friends won't run into you or come looking for you.

The library at B.C. was a hulk of cement; I expect it would block cell phone reception in a way very conducive to good studying. (I wouldn't know because I graduated in 1994, and also because I only went there to read Matthew Parris columns in the London Times.)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

(By the way, don't take personal acceptance of the need to skim as a reason not to flaunt your HUGE pile of Penguin Classics in front of every engineering student you see. It's still worth it: the thicker titles drive them off like garlic to a vampire!)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:46 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it is possible to read everything in a semester. I only managed that twice as a lit. major, but I know people who read everything. The main trick is to remove yourself from environments where you'll be distracted. Some prefer libraries, but I tend to find that I'll have a sudden urge to go read something completely different. I've had the best luck in cafés. Something about the combination of caffeinated drinks, pastries, and a lack of other stimulation helps me read for hours on end and enjoy it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:15 PM on January 21, 2011

I read just about everything as a lit major and as an English grad student (or maybe I've blocked out the memories of stuff I didn't read). For me the key would be getting away from electronics--TV, internet, phone for texting, whatever your particular vice is. A cafe is good, if you won't see too many friends. Or try a library without internet access. If some of the novels are good, have them be your evening reading before you go to sleep (any Dickens, Twain, or Austen in the mix?). Read ahead for pleasure with the stuff you actually like.

When I took Shakespeare in grad school (a play a week!), I spent each Saturday morning sprawled on the couch reading a play.

As an undergrad, for my Shakespeare class, at the end of the semester I reviewed every play by having the play open and watching a BBC production--not Mel Gibson as Hamlet but Kenneth Branaugh as King whoever. Most BBC productions are pretty close to the text (and for places they aren't, just stop and read) and it can be really helpful to watch and read at the same time. As I said, I did it this way as a review, but you could try reading the play this way. Just make sure to have the text open and stop the film when you need to read a bit. You might be able to get the BBC productions through your library, if not Netflix or Blockbuster.

I had a harder time with poetry. I could read it quickly but the meaning wasn't always as clear to me. I probably would have benefited from reading meet-ups with a classmate, where we read a few poems and talked about them a bit.

If you're really pinched, find the MasterPlots in your library's reference section. These can also be helpful for hard stuff (be it Milton or Faulkner), as you can know advance what you are reading, which makes the reading go faster.

Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my experience, poetry required close reading. Novels, not so much. I'd try seeing if you can get by reading at a quicker, more normal pace when you're reading novels. Also, when I had semesters like that, I found it helped -- a lot -- to read a lot on weekends, when under less time pressure. It also can help to prioritize some classes over others (for me, Milton and Beowulf over Modern British Lit -- YMMV).
posted by J. Wilson at 3:36 PM on January 21, 2011

Are those the actual page counts? I realize won't get to space the reading out perfectly, but that works out to (conservative estimate) 75 pages a day, which is a pretty modest figure. If you're able to keep a good sleep schedule such that you're alert first thing in the morning, start reading right away, before class, to make it through ~25 pages. Try to read for another short stretch every afternoon. And read a little bit more in the evening. What'll really kill your enjoyment and critical appreciation as well is having to slog through something in one sitting.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:24 PM on January 21, 2011

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