An Education
September 6, 2015 4:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a good grounding in the study of literature while not a full-time student? What resources (Great Courses, books, textbooks, seminars, courses, etc.) would help? The purpose is to add depth, symbolism, and allusion to my own writing.

I didn't study literature at university, although I've read a lot on my own. I was just reading "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" and I realized that I want to get a good grounding in literature -- allusion, symbolism, theme, etc. -- to add depth to my writing. How do I start? What resources will help?
posted by 3491again to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I cackled in glee as I saw this. I'm an English major, and while I had mixed feelings about my experience, being able to use specific terminology to argue for my understanding of how an author created their stories was an incredible thing to learn.

Key Terms in Literature - every English major pretty much should know these by heart
Twentieth Century Literary Theory: A Reader - extremely useful overview of several literary theories
Owl Purdue's Introduction to Literary Theories
Libguides at Vanguard University - A very solid compilation of links to go through, including other universities' public access databases regarding literary theory/terminology
MOOC List of Literature Courses - Online courses of literature, perhaps there is a particular area and time period of literature you are interested in?
posted by yueliang at 5:11 PM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

A recent front-page post rounded up a ton of responses to the question "What books should a critic own?" That's not quite the same as having a grounding in the study of literature, but the overlap is significant. It's about 200 books total, including many 'great books,' famous works of literary criticism, Nabokov's lectures on literature, etc.

Since this is ultimately about your own writing, I know David Lodge's The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts has often been used in classes on writing fiction to show students exactly what particular terms mean and how they work in practice. Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style is also popular; Queneau rewrites a particular scene/story over and over again, achieving different effects with different techniques. I'd also recommend getting a cheap used copy of Scholes (et al.)'s Text Book: Writing Through Literature, which has a similarly pragmatic approach to literary language--illustrating a lot of things with an eye toward getting students to try them out.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:32 PM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I dug these two resources up from my Fiction Writing class:

Literary Key Terms
The Art of Subtext
posted by yueliang at 5:56 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

This I found a nice quick study in several critical disciplines, despite its satirical nature.
posted by vrakatar at 6:02 PM on September 6, 2015

I'm not an academic but I've been reading all my life. I recommend Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures On Literature, a collection of lectures Nabokov gave to female college students back in in the 1950s. These lectures are really lessons on close and critical reading; if you are going to learn from someone, you may as well pick a literary genius as your mentor!
posted by Agave at 6:51 AM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two Great Courses, I recommend are "The Art of Reading" and "Masterpieces of Short Fiction." Save a small fortune by buying them used off eBay (preferably with the guidebooks). You'll get more out of "Masterpieces of Short Fiction," if you read the stories (not included in the guidebook) before viewing the lectures.

Another thing you can do is use Google to find PDF files of AP high school or college bound reading lists. Syllabi might be helpful too. That will give you a good idea of what you should be reading to get the basics.
posted by 1smartcookie at 4:56 PM on September 7, 2015

Another thought: as you read what folks have recommended in terms of analysis, theory, and terminology, you might also get a hold of a few anthologies and read through them. Norton does good ones, as do Longman and Broadview. Anthologies help give you a sense of what's considered canononical -- and thus what others might recognize and refer to -- plus they often provide head notes and annotations that canbe quite helpful. And enjoy!
posted by JaneEyre at 7:12 PM on September 7, 2015

Try How Novels Work by John Mullan. He uses a fairly small sample of well known novels to talk about the different devices they use to create a particular effect.
posted by tavegyl at 1:50 AM on September 8, 2015

Critical Theory Today is an extremely down-to-earth stroll through critical lenses often used to study and write about literature. The author takes one novel, The Great Gatsby, and reads it through a psychoanalytic lens, then a Marxist lens, then a New Historical lens, then a Queer Studies lens, and so on. Highly recommend.
posted by Buddy_Boy at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2015

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