Friday, November 4, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

November is upon us, and I am sorry that I lost steam at the end of October.  There were other books and stories I was hoping to fit into my October reading, but I guess I'll just have to save them for next year.  I enjoyed the October reading season, but now I've been in a bit of a slump.  So when I saw that The Blue Bookcase is doing another one of their blog hops, I thought this might be a perfect solution!

It's been a while since I've participated in one of these, but I always love them when I remember to tag along.  This week's question is a great one for me:

"To what extent do you analyze literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you're going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience?"

Literary Blog Hop

To what extent do I analyze literature?  A great extent.  An overly thoughtful extent.  Maybe even an obsessive extent.  Is this for better or for worse?  Honestly, I'm not 100% sure.

There's no doubt in my mind that analyzing literature can reveal the depth and insight of a story in a totally unique and rewarding way.  I believe that literature makes a huge impact on our society by showing us innumerable facets of human nature and implicitly teaching us about our own lives and the people who are in them.  Careful analysis illuminates the exceptional messages within great literature so that we can really recognize what the author is offering and learn from that.  Moreover, in-depth analysis reveals things we don't recognize during our first reading, illustrating the multilevel nature of great work and opening the potential for even more of it.

When I first finish reading a book, it usually takes me some time before I am able to form a real opinion about it.  I often have to think of the work as a whole and weigh the significance of what it had to say.  I take this time to ponder the author's original intentions for the story, and I am almost always inspired to look up more details about it in research.  There have been many times where I have developed a much greater appreciation for a piece of literature because of the analysis I have conducted.  Even if I don't initially love the book, I may grow to admire the author's unique skill or message.  So I do love analyzing literature and uncovering the great things in it that I initially overlooked.  There are a handful of books I've read that I felt were quite strange or even unpleasant while I was reading them but I have since grown to admire.  This is only possible with analysis.  As for the books I already knew I enjoyed, a thoughtful analysis almost always broadens the scope and depth of the piece and makes me like it more.

So in a way, I think heavy analysis can be a test to literature.  If you can break it down and analyze it from a number of different angles and still love the piece, then it is a Classic.  Without contest, I have analyzed Crime and Punishment more intensely than any other book I've read.  I have written numerous papers and read it cover-to-cover three times, in addition to rereading multiple passages.  And I can honestly say that for me, it has not lost one ounce of its flavor or appeal.  In fact, I love it even more.

However, some books are so amazing, I don't need a minute to think about them.  When I have just finished reading a truly magnificent piece, I close the book with an instinctual sigh of deep contentment.  There's something beautiful about literature that is so magnificent that I don't have to even think about it; I can just feel it.  And this is why I say that I can see how being analytical about reading can detract from your experience.  When I read something that is so thoroughly enjoyable like that, I am instantly aware of how much more satisfying that feeling is than intensive study.  Somehow, I think we must find a balance between appreciating literature on its analytical level and letting go in order to just enjoy it for what it is.  I definitely err on the side of taking it too seriously at times.  I need to be able to also sit back and enjoy.

I'm looking forward to reading what the rest of you think about this question!


Becky (Page Turners) said...

I wonder if one of the best ways to really analyse literature well is to read it once and think about your emotional and intellectual reaction etc and then maybe read it again and get into the nitty gritty of it? Not that I do that most of the time, but I think it sounds like a good idea.


"There's no doubt in my mind that analyzing literature can reveal the depth and insight of a story in a totally unique and rewarding way"
I agree with this statement and I liked reading your post. Great discussion all over the blogs participating in the hop. Nice to meet you all!

everybookandcranny said...

I like your thoughts about appreciating a work after you've read it. That was my experience reading Middlemarch by George Eliot last December. I didn't "love" it the moment I finished the last page, but knowing what a significant work it was, I immediately set about trying to understand Eliot better. During my research I reread huge chunks of the novel and grew to love the book by leaps and bounds with each new insight that I uncovered.

In response to what Becky said, Susan Bauer (author of The Well-Educated Mind) has a theory that to really understand a work, one must read it three times. Focusing just on the experience of reading the novel the first time and then delving deeper with each successive reading.

Amy said...

Thank you all for dropping by and sharing in this discussion. I have greatly enjoyed reading everyone's various posts in the blog hop, and my mind is spinning with all sorts of thoughts about analysis in general. I am feeling inspired to revisit this conversation later, and perhaps we can all dig into the definition of "analysis" when we refer to it in literature, as well as some of the various techniques there are to offer.

And yes, I do believe in re-reading!

Jillian said...

Hi Amy! Comment seem to be working now. :-)

*So in a way, I think heavy analysis can be a test to literature. If you can break it down and analyze it from a number of different angles and still love the piece, then it is a Classic.*

This is probably the best definition of a "classic" I've ever read. You're so right: if it can be picked apart, dragged through our filters, explored for its statement on the time in which it was written, etc -- and still hold up? Still offer more? It's a classic.

I think I err on the side of too serious, too. Maybe that's why I say I don't analyze now; I'm trying to pull back from analysis to learn the art of that unthought sigh.

I believe 100 % in rereading. :-)