Five Ways to Read a Difficult Book

We’ve all been there; picked up a book because it’s a “classic” or because a friend read it and said it was amazing so you went and bought a copy, but for some reason you just can’t seem to get into it, or connect with any of the characters, or even get past the first page.

As a Literature student, we are told what to read, rather than what we want to read and we have to get through the novels as quickly as possible, especially when we’re reading three a week and so I have become somewhat good at pretending I’ve read a book, when I’ve only had time to read the first chapter, or hated it so much I couldn’t reach the end (see my post on my hate for Moby Dick here). And so, to help all you students out there (and non-students for that matter), I have come up with some helpful tips that I’ve learnt to help you read a difficult book.

1. Find a space that is comfortable and quiet, perhaps somewhere you read often.

2. Have a dictionary by your side so that when you come across a word you don’t understand, highlight it and look it up. If you’re one of those people that thinks writing in a book is the worst thing a human can do, jot it down on a post-it and stick it on the right page in the book.

3. Visit a website such as “SparkNotes”, “Shmoop” or “Cliffsnotes”. These often give detailed summaries, character analysis, chapter analyses, and important quotations. I find it 100% easier to read a book when I know what will happen at the end. This idea might not be for everyone, as it does spoil the ending, but it means I can usually finish the book without a problem.

4. Look at how the book is arranged. Find the table of contents, maybe look at the names of the chapters and discover what important themes or settings the author wants you to focus on.

5. Going back to the highlighting, if you don’t mind defacing a book (I can’t stand it), take a pen or pencil and make notes as you go, highlighting important events or character introduction. Don’t highlight without writing a sentence on why it’s important; you probably won’t remember why you highlighted it when you come back to it. What it does mean is if you have to backtrack because you can’t remember a specific conversation or character detail, it will be a lot easier to find. If you don’t want to write in your book, or it is a library book, use post-its instead.

I really hope this helps; all of the above have helped me on my course so much the last couple of years and I hope it’ll help you too!

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