How to Get Through Your Reading Assignment

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Another reading assignment. Boring as hell, worse than the one you have just finished the day before. It took you three weeks to complete the previous novel, and you feel that the book wasn’t worth spending time on it. Ok, it is not an exciting detective story that makes you rush towards the end anticipating who committed the crime. It is not a fluffy love story about two people who finally found each other and will be happy forever, either. However, you still have to read it, as your grade and the content of your essays depend on it. No matter how expensive the food is and whether or not the supermarket you shop at has student savings deals, you still have to eat. Similarly, you still need to read novels you are assigned, no matter how intimidating and useless they seem to you. Here are some tips that may help you get through the assignment:

1. Don’t be seduced by cliff notes. They will kill the reading process for you. Why bother going through every page if you already know what happened? The only time you are allowed to use cliff notes is when you have only one day before the final on the book and you have no idea what happened. This way, you’ll at least, have a slightest clue. Otherwise, read it, and you’ll definitely find something (there has to be) interesting for you, whether the style, or the language, or maybe, even plot.

2. Learn a little bit about the author first. It helps when reading the book, and this is the reason why many professors give a lecture on authors’  biographies and tell students what literary movements they belonged to. Knowing details about the author allows you to fill the book with an additional meaning.

First thing that is important here is the time when the author lived. It restores the atmosphere of the century. There may have been different moods and goals in the United States 200 years ago as compared to now. What was going on in history at the time may be implied in the text, so the plot is not only a story of Mister Smith and Miss Evans (or anyone other), but it is a relationship that took place in certain surroundings under particular historical circumstances. For instance, such a simple plot as “two people love each other, but the man is married” may have a happy ending if the married man gets a divorce (if action takes place in the 21 st century), or an unhappy ending because his wife may sue him for unfaithfulness and leave him bankrupt. If the events occur at the time when divorce was a sin and the only way one could get out of marriage was the spouse’s death, then it’s a comletely different story and different struggle. You get the point.

Secondly, it helps to learn what the author’s personal experience was. Writers often use the stories they lived through or observed for their pieces. Pondering about what really happened and what the novelist imagined may be a thrilling puzzle for you to solve, so try to get all the information your time and resources allow you to gather. This includes the author’s family, upbringing, jobs, romances, etc. The more you know, the better the reading will seem to you.

Third, literary influences and movements reveal a lot about an author. If you research on what writers he or she admired and who was the novelist’s mentor, you will clearly see where the style and ideas of the book are coming from. Belonging to a literary movement often explains “why this book is so weird,” and accordingly, you will appreciate the piece of fiction more if you find how the ideology of the movement came alive in your assigned writer’s work.

Remember that all this information and also the interpretation of the book can be found in articles written by critics. Therefore, it is useful to read those, too.

3. Imagine that the situation described in the book happened to someone you know. Some books, unlike other ones, don’t need any context or a setting. Most classical stories are relevant for any generation because they can apply to anyone at any country at any given time period. What would you suggest the characters do if they were your acquaintances? Using your imagination spices up the process of reading, and it’s a completely free and available tool waiting to be exploited.

4. Discuss the book with other students. In the same conversation they share their information about new student discounts local restaurants offer, they may give you a hint that regards your reading. If you don’t understand some words, or a character’s behavior, or the idea of the book, ask your peers. They may be more knowledgeable than you are, and they may even relieve you of doing research on your own if you ask the right questions and they know the right answers. Note that if they tell you something about the author that you didn’t know, clarify where they got that information from. If they say that they “think so,” you shouldn’t use it in your essay as a stated fact. If they give you a particular source, make sure to check it out before you use it in your classwork. This way you won’t steal their idea completely and may get a different interpretation of the text, not mentioning that next day you will have a lot more to discuss.

By the way, you can also ask your professors about anything that is unclear. The majority of them are always willing to give explanations or to share their knowledge. Doing this is a brilliant strategy: the professors will be happy that you are interested in the subject they are teaching and you will get a lot of material for your essays and class discussions.

Even though all this may appear overwhelming when you take into consideration how many other homework assignments you have to do, but think about it in the long run: once you gather information necessary, you won’t have to work so hard on it anymore. You will know where to get the ideas and sources for your essay, you will be more interested in the book itself and you are likely to get a good grade for your class (sometimes professors give you an “A” just for doing all this extra work not required by the course, for trying hard, even if your knowledge is not profound enough for the excellent grade). And of course, the more you read, the better your writing gets. Sometimes you don’t notice it, but you pick up grammatical structures and new vocabulary from the literature you read. The novels that you are assigned may not be the most exciting thing you’ve ever come across, but they are well-written and meaningul; otherwise, why would your professor pick them for the class?

The moral is: if something is unknown, it is always scary, so learn a lot about the “boring” assignment you are given, and watch you fear disappearing and your confidence boosting. College years are the time to challenge yourself, overcome the difficulties and grow to find a likable aspect in any work that you loathe.

Ekaterina Lalo

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