Reading With Intent

3 Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky (Russian painter, 1868-1945)   Reading in the Garden 1915So, here I am, back in the blogging world, on the other side of the type of reading week that I don’t ever want to experience again.  It was a bit like being back at school and having to read books simply because they were set texts.  I’ve probably told you this before, but it took me almost a year to read Emma when it turned up on my ‘A’ Level syllabus and to this day it is the only one of Jane Austen’s novels that I would never dream of picking up and reading for pleasure.  The same is true of the books I’ve just had to speed read, along with meeting all the other commitments I already had in my diary.  I’m sure they were both excellent books in their way, but they will forever be associated in my mind with the stress of having to read them to a very tight deadline.  Apart from anything else, it isn’t fair on the writers or the books themselves.

With that in mind I’ve been through my diary and set up alerts to warn me when the same thing is likely to happen again so that I can get started on my reading much earlier.  The next time isn’t until October, so the alerts are necessary because by then I’m likely to have forgotten how awful it’s been this month.

And now I’m going to have a very lazy reading weekend.  I have the new Lindsey Davis, The Ides of April, to read, along with Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder and I want to start to re-read Stuart Hill’s wonderful series for children that began with The Cry of the Icemark in preparation for the publication next month of the latest volume, The Prince of the Icemark.  And I am not going to read a word because I have to.  That is not what reading should be about.


13 thoughts on “Reading With Intent

  1. I remember the same thing when I did my English degree. I think part of the problem is the way you’re supposed to read the books – I had to analyse them, pick them apart and look for stand-out segments to be cannibalised later. For this reason I didn’t enjoy the books!
    Also, there were many books that I only had time to read two-thirds of – skipping to the end to get the overall gist. Not the best way to encounter a story.
    In fact, after my degree I didn’t read another book for a year, I was burnt out with the process.
    Good luck with your heavy reading schedule. I hope it doesn’t leave you feeling jaded!

    1. As someone who taught on similar degree courses I can only burying my head in my hands and groan. What sort of a university system do we have that people come out at the end not wanting to read any more? And yet, if you’re going to give students any sort of overview of the history of literature it’s hard to think of another way of going about it. Perhaps the time has come to offer degrees in just part of the corpus rather than trying to cover the whole spectrum.

  2. It can get stressful when you end up with too many reading commitments! Then I do feel guilty about rushing through a book and not giving it the time and attention it deserves. It doesn’t happen too often though these days, thank goodness!

      1. Thanks, I’m going to. The weather doesn’t look as if it’s going to be up to much (gale force winds today) so I think it’s going to be three days curled up over the fire. Summer was last weekend and now we’re heading back into next winter.

  3. Yes, I know exactly the kind of pressured reading you must’ve gone through, from reading for my comprehensive exams in grad school. The reading experience itself is so intense that it causes you to remember funny and sometimes not pertinent details (not to say impertinent ones!) of what you have read. Of course, when required to write for an exam or answer questions in an oral exam, this can actually work to your advantage in a weird way, because it may mean that you come up with odd perspectives and insights that the examiners have never heard before, which helps make you “original” and “fresh” in your ideas. Then again, sometimes all they want is the “old chestnuts” of previous scholarship; it can work either way, and that sort of depends on the examiners you get. Do enjoy all the reading-for-pleasure that you get to do now, though: it will come as a breath of fresh air, I’m sure.

    1. Your comment reminds me of a first year student I had who had clearly had A level teachers who fell into the ‘old chestnut’ school of assessment. I’d asked the class to keep a record of their changing opinions about a short story from first reading, through seminars and lectures, to preparing to write about it. Their responses, which required them to account for the changes in their reactions, should each have been completely individual. That was the idea. As I checked that they were clear about what was wanted this one young woman said no she wasn’t. I started to explain again, only for her to stop me, saying that she understood the nature of the task, what she didn’t know was what I wanted her to think. That was one of the very rare occasions on which I was struck dumb.

  4. I read Emma at first year university. But didn’t appreciate then… until I read it again for pleasure and love of Austen only in the recent years. Actually, all the classics I’d read in U. I didn’t enjoy as much as now, decades later, on my own choosing and for my own interests. I don’t know how it would feel if I have to read something… will definitely add pressure and suck out the joy of reading. But then again, I’m sure you’d enjoy them too if not pressed for time.

    1. Sometimes I think the fact that I didn’t read English Lit at University was a blessing as it meant that I didn’t have the experience of having to dissect novels in that way and while I did have to analyse play scripts it was always over a longer period as we prepared to stage them. I suspect I avoided a lot of heart ache.

  5. Oh, don’t. I went completely crazy and booked myself up for way too much on the blog. I think I can stop reading to fulfill commitments around the end of June… I’m behind in everything! Glad you are embarking on a much more peaceful reading weekend!

    1. Don’t let your schedule make you ill again. I know that one of the worst things I can do is put myself in a position where I have a rigid deadline.

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