Can people who analyse books in school still love reading afterwards, or does the studying of a text make us resent literature as a whole? As someone who has always loved reading I’m inclined to say that there is nothing that could make me dislike books, but someone there are certainly others in the same position may disagree.
One of the most common arguments is that the books forced upon us in secondary school are never good or as interesting. Noughts and Crosses, Romeo and Juliet and Of Mice and Men were all books I personally have been required to read for school, and while I was always excited to read something, not everyone felt that way. It is easy to assume that because the book was old it was boring, or that because you hadn’t heard of it previously it couldn’t possibly be that interesting, any why couldn’t we just watch the film instead. There are certainly dusty tomes out there at don’t enthuse everyone. But by the end almost everyone in a class can become invested in the stories that they had previously slated, wanting to know what happened to the characters they were now invested in, and adventures and calamities in which these characters were involved.
I think a big reason why people get turned off of books in school is the method of analysing that teachers use. I was lucky enough to have imaginative teachers who had us looking at the book through roleplay, art and character profiles. Many among us don’t get that luxury. So even though we did sometimes have to sit with excerpts and highlighters to look for noun phrases that symbolised sadness, we also got to be assessed on our understanding of the text in other ways. In Lord of the Flies, we had to devise and act out a scene after the ending, a ‘what would have happened next’, to see if we understood the characters and their motivations. I think this really helped a lot of people who maybe didn’t enjoy the more rigid, standard academic way of analysing books; by making it interactive, a teacher can become engaging, can invest more people into the actions of the characters within the story and reducing the chances of these same people resenting studying just because it was ‘boring’.
However, and especially if you are someone who already loves books, over-analysing texts you have already read and already love can take the pleasure out of them. And if you choose to do A-level English and spend every lesson analysing words and their structure and meaning, it can be hard to read anything for fun without analysing it when all you want to do is enjoy Harry Potter. I’m sure we’ve all studied books or plays which we would happily have enjoyed reading ourselves, but that they now feel like they’ve been ‘done to death’ with every little bit of vaguely relevant meaning or symbolism squeezed out of them.
The benefit with having good English teachers is that can often they let you form your own opinions of the book, and allow you to analyse meanings for yourself rather than spoon-feeding you all of their interpretations. That can be a benefit of going on to study an art or humanitiy at higher academic levels. Many teachers are happy to hear conflicting opinions to their own, to debate and discuss with enthusiasm, as long as the student can still pass their exam on that text and can show they understand it and their interpretation. But this is where analysing books can become frustrating, especially as a book-lover, because it can be frustrating to want to keep learning more about the book but to be constrained by the length of time you have in 45 minute lessons, but also the capabilities of the class. And I say that loosely because of course everyone has different investment in a topic or even understanding in that subject area, but I intend to convey it in the sense that Year Nine’s won’t necessarily be analysing The Great Gatsby to the same extent as university students, but that the lovers of reading in any class may find hard to just be satisfied with a glossing-over of the concepts of the book, just as natural artists may feel stumped by the resources or scientists the equipment on offer at school.
By the time you’ve read the end of school and with it compulsory education, if you already loved reading and hoarding books then analysing them in school hopefully won’t have made you resent it at all. You may resent that particular book for a while – it’s easy to hold a grudge – but you should still find the same enjoyment from reading as you normally would, when you’re not in a classroom and identifying every metaphor or use of passive voice.