tips for summer reading!
August 14, 2006 10:47 AM   Subscribe

ProcrastinatorFilter: How can I tackle my summer reading?

i will be going into the 11th grade this year and as always at this time, i have yet to start my summer reading. we go back to school september 6. i have a man for all seasons (163 pages), a portrait of the artist as a young man (298 pages), and the once and future king (639 pages). i've always been a slow reader (i do that thing where i hear the words in my head - what you're not supposed to do). i've read those speedreading techniques, but my comprehension takes a nosedive. for boring (in my opinion) books as these, i find it hard to concentrate (for books i am interested - i have no problem).

any tips, suggestions, strategies, etc?
posted by willmillar to Education (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are these required? Do you have to write reports on them?

If not, read the Cliff's Notes so that you can make appropriate comments in class. Then start working on the books.
posted by k8t at 10:51 AM on August 14, 2006

When I couldn't stand reading my sophomore year English summer reading (Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton) I bought it as an audio from audible. They have Portrait.... Check to see if the other two are on tape. It really helped me get though the horrible 10th grade reading.
posted by daninnj at 10:52 AM on August 14, 2006

No matter what you choose, make sure to read "A Man for All Seasons." It's really a spectacular book.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 10:57 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster:
No matter what you choose, make sure to read "A Man for All Seasons." It's really a spectacular book.
posted by sjuhawk31
i plan on it. my brother highly reccomended it to me.

Are these required? Do you have to write reports on them?
posted by k8t
yes and yes :(
posted by willmillar at 11:00 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster:
When I couldn't stand reading my sophomore year English summer reading (Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton) I bought it as an audio from audible. They have Portrait.... Check to see if the other two are on tape. It really helped me get though the horrible 10th grade reading.
posted by daninnj
while that's a good idea, i'd rather tackle this problem head-on (my problems with reading (boring) novels)
posted by willmillar at 11:02 AM on August 14, 2006

Don't worry about being a slow reader. (I am a super slow reader and do it for a living...I'm a book editor.) Focusing on how slow or fast you're reading will just stress you out and could be adding to your procrastination.

I would sit down and choose a section of the book that you are going to read. Say 15 pages. Then get up and do something else for a short time. Repeat. You will either get interested enough in the book that you won't want to stop for the break, or you will get frustrated enough to not want to stop, or you will get it read eventually! Like K8T said, pick up the Cliff's notes doesn't hurt to read both.
posted by meerkatty at 11:06 AM on August 14, 2006

I don't have any tips for actually getting into the books but maybe try reading somewhere else. I find I have too many distractions at home (computer, tv, guitars, etc.) and it's much easier to get away from that stuff to get work done than to be around it and get work done. Maybe make a commitment to go to the library for an hour or two every day until you're done. It'd probably be best to go in the morning and save the fun stuff til after.

If all the books are equally uninteresting I'd read longest to shortest so each book is a bit easier to get through.
posted by 6550 at 11:09 AM on August 14, 2006

If you have trouble finishing a book, and forget what's going on in the long intervals between putting it down and picking it back up, get it in audio form.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:11 AM on August 14, 2006

Try to read a chapter before you fall asleep everynight. If they are short chapters, two or three.
posted by starman at 11:12 AM on August 14, 2006

For something that I don't want to read (and I spend more time than I'd like reading things that I don't like) I set myself a quota of pages per hour--usually 20. (By comparison, my reading rate for something I enjoy can be as high as 60 pages/hour). After I meet my quota for the hour (which usually takes about 30 minutes), I'm allowed to goof off for a while.

I hated A Man For All Seasons when I was assigned it in high school (sorry, but true), but came to like it later in life. I didn't really get it until I saw the 1966 film version of the play. I am not recommending watching the film in the place of reading the book, but as a supplement.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man gets easier as you go along--don't let the opening section put you off (though once I revisited that book when I was older, the first chapter was the most interesting part).
posted by Prospero at 11:17 AM on August 14, 2006

Try to skim for action passages and dialogue. That's the real meat of the story. You don't need to read the paragraphs expounding on the specific shade of blue the sky was or the way the protagonist preferred to eat his soup. If you get the sense that a particular passage is going nowhere, just move on to the next one.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:17 AM on August 14, 2006

Here's the order:

1) A Man for All Seasons: It's a play, isn't it? 163 pages will go by in no time.

2) The Once and Future King is just a popular novel based on the Arthurian legends. Shouldn't they have assigned you something a little more rigorous like Idyls of the King, or maybe selections from the Morte d'Arthur? Never mind, it'll be a breeze.

3) Portrait is the most complex work on your list. As far as the report goes, your teacher is probably expecting the weakest ones to be on this book. Presumably they'll be spending a fair amount of time teaching this book as well? Looking stupid and/or unprepared is easiest to get away with here, so save it for last in case you run out of time.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:19 AM on August 14, 2006

When I had a long summer reading list in high school I would read for half an hour in bed before I got up, and for half an hour before I went to sleep. Having those set times made me not wiggle out of it. Also, it got to be such a habit that eventually I couldn't sleep without reading, even after I was back at school.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:20 AM on August 14, 2006

I didn't really get it until I saw the 1966 film version of the play. I am not recommending watching the film in the place of reading the book, but as a supplement.

Arguably, watching a film of a play gets you closer to the writer's intent than reading the script. It's not really cheating (though films and stage productions do often cut scenes).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:20 AM on August 14, 2006

Another quick tip: take the book everywhere. Read it everywhere. Short chunks add up quickly. Breakfast table, video store lineup, bus ride, commercials on tv...

(sperose: You're an English major and have never heard of James Joyce? Check out Portrait of the Artist....seriously, it's great.)
posted by meerkatty at 11:21 AM on August 14, 2006

I would just set a timer for an hour each night, get comfortable, and read. Don't worry about how much progress you are making or how much you are absorbing of each book. Just set aside the time to read consistently. Whether you've finished them all or not, read through some Cliff's Notes or Spark Notes right before school starts so you are at least aware of what are considered the important aspects of each book and so that you get a refresher of each.

It also might help to try & read an overview of the books before you dive in - figuring out why these books are considered "significant" might help pique your interest in them.

I fondly remember reading the first few pages of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, getting bored, getting distracted by something shiny, and then conveniently forgetting to read the rest. It's not a decision I regret. Ditto for Crime & Punishment.
posted by tastybrains at 11:23 AM on August 14, 2006

Maybe the root of the problem is that you find the books boring. I don't know about Portrait of the Artist, but the other two books have some beautiful writing and tackle some ideas that'll come back into your life again and again. For example, a lot of the debates about the "war on terror" make me think about A Man for All Seasons.

What I'm trying to say is, there are lots of people who are deeply interested in those books. Not all of them are boring or nuts. Maybe you could search the Web or talk to people to find out why get into them. That could spark at least enough interest to get you going.

Also, A Man for All Seasons is a play, not a novel. It was meant to be read out loud, on stage, by actors -- not quietly at a table by high school students. There are at least two movie versions of it. You could get a hold of one and watch it. Seeing a great performance of it might get you interested enough to read it. (But remember that watching a movie is no substitute for doing the reading -- that's one of the first things teachers look for). Or (and I know this sounds lame), get a friend from the same class and read it out loud to each other, each of you taking a part. Hey, if nothing else, you'll both have gotten the damn thing read.

One more thing: Some of the books I read in high school bored me to tears...until I went back and re-read them later, when I was an adult. Sometimes, all it takes is one well-meaning, deeply involved teacher to completely ruin a great work of literature.
posted by PlusDistance at 11:25 AM on August 14, 2006

Yes never read plays by themselves. That's like reading a screenplay. When I had to read Hamlet (which I love), I bought the Kenneth Bragnath version (it is the only unabridged one done recently that I am aware of) and a modern English edition to follow along when I got lost in some of the dialogue. I suggest you do the same: watch the movie and read the book.

Force yourself to read 50 pages a day and then suddenly everything seems reasonable and within light. For those longer books like The Once and Future King, I would recommend reading Spark Notes first (so you can understand the story arc and what you should be paying attention to, that way you don't spend an hour trying to figure out some subplot that took up 75 pages and really doesn't pertain to the main story). I highly suggest this method as it is the easiest to absorb and remember a book, it got me through my AP-level classes. You really need to read the book along with Spark Notes as I had an evil teacher who would pick out parts that weren't in Spark Notes to test us over (which sucked, because those parts were invariably the meaningless stuff that no one really noticed except the super-organized, overachiever in the back).

The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man will hands down be the one that you will end up spending a month talking about. Just read the Spark Notes and a few chapters, you should be fine.

Of course my school was incredibly mean and gave us a 4 page essay on each of the books THEN taught us. In fact this teacher was so paranoid we didn't read the books we'd always take quizzes before we discussed everything. I hated that to death. So be prepared.

PS Don't let high school reading turn you off, reading with people who love to read and aren't trying to play the "Gotcha!" game of who read it and who didn't is actually fun.
posted by geoff. at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2006

This is what I did to get through the 1000+ page The Brothers Karamazov one winter break: arrange to take a solo long train or bus ride. I think reading for longer periods helps interest set in and the quality of the writing to take over. By the end of a 6-hour journey, you may be more than halfway through The Once and Future King (which actually has a lot of humor in it). You can finish it on the ride back home.
posted by xo at 12:19 PM on August 14, 2006

Once and Future King is not boring at all. It's a really fun book. Just take the book you're reading everywhere with you. There are lots of opportunities to read during the day. You're making it worse by telling yourself it'll be long and boring and difficult. It won't be.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:21 PM on August 14, 2006

I'd definitely suggest trying to read in different environments where you'll be less distracted. I love to read [and I read very quickly], but I've found that certain authors write works that are very dense - dense enough that if I'm at home, I'll usually get distracted quickly and have problems getting much reading done, even if they're authors that I know I like [Dostoevsky and Pynchon particularly.] This is even more the case with books that I'm not all that interested in. Go somewhere with only your book - try the library, or a coffeeshop, or maybe a nice quiet area outdoors, or even a car/plane on a long trip - and see if the change in atmosphere makes it easier to concentrate.

For Man for All Seasons, you may want to consider seeing a movie version first. Once you have an idea of how the story goes, it may be easier to get past the format the play's written in and also past any archaic language that the play may use. For Once and Future King, I suspect you'll find this book a rather less dense than Portrait..., but it is longer. Do it before you hit Portrait..., for this reason. Once you get past the very English tone, it's actually a pretty interesting take on the King Arthur mythos, with a good mix of humor and tragedy. There's a good chance that you'll enjoy it once you've gotten the hang of how it's paced. Finally, with Portrait..., you might want to read some articles online about the book and about Joyce before tackling the book proper. This sort of supplemental stuff may provide a little structure to your reading, so that you're not slogging blindly through a complicated book.
posted by ubersturm at 1:28 PM on August 14, 2006

Instead of reading so many pages a day, consider reading for a period of time per day.

I set aside my lunch half-hour at work each day for a little food and then the rest for reading. I've finished approximately six books thus far; I have been surprised at how much reading I've accomplished in two months. Some people work better without a time restriction, but I find that I won't read if I don't schedule a time for it. Anyway, if you get sick of reading, you can stop after a half hour--but if you get into it, you'd be able to keep reading (whereas I return to work...).
posted by sian at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2006

You've got a lot of short term solutions here, but you should probably think a little bit more long term. Try to figure out how to become un-bored by the books. It can seem like boredom exists in things, but it's really an incredibly malleable state of mind. Try to find something fascinating about these books. You can even fool yourself into coming up with something, and it will make your time feel less "wasted" in the end. If you can hone this skill, it will pay off far, far beyond summer reading being finished.

Some ideas:

For Portrait, think of James Joyce as the towering, yet subversive figure who wrote mind-bogglingly difficult works of English literature, yet also wrote the book you're reading. He was a wild man for his day, at least until he was married. Try to channel it.

For the Once and Future King, try to learn everything obscure you can about the wacky Arthurian Legends so you can really get all the jokes in Monty Python's treatment of it.

Finally, if those don't work, remember that the people who've written these books are now dead, snuffed out, no longer ever to be conscious or speak. Yet they outlive many others of their time by the fact that they've written these curious tomes that you're supposed to read in 11th grade. What you're holding in your hands are ways they have transcended death. Something about those books is so powerful that it will be remembered when so many others in the masses are forgotten, barely to be a blip in history's onward rush. There's something incredibly powerful that has kept them around. Find that.
posted by ontic at 2:04 PM on August 14, 2006

I find that having a highlighter or a pen (and maybe a pack of postits) to annotate helps me concentrate - plus it'll help you when going back to write a paper or talk about it in class.
posted by radioamy at 2:25 PM on August 14, 2006

You first of all need to ignore any advice that suggests that you shouldn't read each book in full or that presupposes that you're going to find them uninteresting. This starts with your own assumption that the books are going to be boring. You are not going to do well as a reader if you go into a book thinking that you won't like it -- it's possible to approach each book you read with an open mind while still leaving yourself the capability to think critically about it. It's true that you're not going to like every book that you read as a student, but as long as you have an open mind about them, you'll probably like more than you would have expected, and a few might even change your life.

I think that ontic has some good advice in this vein. Look for some aspect of each book that you can engage with, and realize that not every book is going to be interesting in the same ways that your existing favorites are interesting; with Portrait, for example, you may find that the plot is not as gripping as you're accustomed to or you may find that the main character gets to be somewhat unlikeable, but on the other hand you may be intrigued by the book's very subjective point of view or you may wonder why the main character's name is 'Stephen Dedalus' and how that might be significant. (Personally, I think a good reason to read Portrait is that you may find yourself wanting to read Joyce's Ulysses during some future summer break. It's at least worth it for that reason.)

"i do that thing where i hear the words in my head - what you're not supposed to do"

I don't know who told you that you're not supposed to do that, but they're wrong. If it was an English teacher that told you that, ask him or her why they bothered teaching you about things like alliteration, rhyme, and onomatopoeia -- those are literary effects that are pleasing because you have ears. Good writing should be spoken and heard.
posted by cobra libre at 5:13 PM on August 14, 2006

I think your biggest mistake is assuming you won't enjoy these books. I've never read The Once and Future King. But Bolt's A Man for All Seasons is a great read (and I think plays, in general, are fun to read). And the first two thirds of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a good read and contains some very beautiful language (the last third leaves me a little cold, but I'll probably give it another crack sometime). Pick up James Joyce A to Z, a very handy dictionary that will help with some of the trickier aspects.

If you know you're going to write on one of these, save yourself some work by keeping a notebook nearby and jotting down page references to themes that crop up, pithy quotations, and words you'll need to look up later. Also, try reading in different places until you find one (or a combination) that you like.

You can always resort to SparkNotes and internet summaries in order to better prepare yourself for discussing them and writing about them, but don't cheat yourself out of actually reading them.
posted by wheat at 7:47 AM on August 15, 2006

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