You definitely know how to read. But do you know how to read artfully? Unlike everyday reading, artful reading—the way we read novels and short stories—is less about reading for specific information and more about reading to revel in the literary experience.
It involves recognizing
- how a story’s particular narrative style affects your connection with its characters,
- why authors choose to hint at meanings instead of just writing them out for you,
- how the organization of a novel into distinct chapters can affect your engagement with its plot, and much more.
When you approach a work of fiction the way you do an e-mail or report or newspaper, you miss out on all of this. You’re not getting everything you should out of the reading experience. Learning the skills and techniques of artful reading can improve your life in many ways.
- If you’re a fiction reader, they can make your first reading of a new novel or short story feel as rewarding as a second or third reading, and they can give you new perspectives on works you already cherish.
- If you’re an aspiring writer, they can help you understand the methods that great writers use to tackle literary concepts—successful methods you can then apply to your own writing.
- If you’re a book club member, they can enliven discussions and provide your group with engaging activities to create even deeper appreciations of the works you’re reading.
- If you’re a student, they can improve and enhance the close reading skills essential to success in high school, college, and beyond.
And the best part: These skills are not difficult or unwieldy; rather, they are well within your reach. According to award-winning Professor Timothy Spurgin, who has made a career of enlightening students about the benefits of artful reading, great readers are made, not born.
This idea forms the core of The Art of Reading, Professor Spurgin’s entertaining 24-lecture course that brings together concepts and techniques rarely found in a single package. Teaching with an engaging and conversational style, he gives you the knowledge and methods to approach even the most daunting reading experience with increased confidence.
Master the Fundamentals of Fiction
An artful reading experience relies on a concrete grasp of the basic elements of fiction, and The Art of Reading is a great way to master them. Throughout the first half of the course, you learn the definitions and characteristics of terms such as authorship, master plot, theme, genre, and metafiction.
While some of these nuts-and-bolts concepts may be familiar to you, Professor Spurgin examines them from multiple angles, revealing hidden meanings that can escape even experienced readers. For example:
- How many types of realism are there?
- What are the differences between a work’s plot and its story?
- How can you spot ambiguity in a passage and not confuse it with irony?
Professor Spurgin’s answers to these and other hazy questions about the fundamentals of fiction are easily understandable and never bogged down in complicated literary theory. In some instances, he emphasizes a particular element’s purposes, strengths, and weaknesses through exercises in which you mentally “rewrite” passages by iconic writers. One intriguing exercise asks you how Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” would read if it were narrated in the third person instead of the first person.
Discover the Artful Reader’s Toolbox
Central to Professor Spurgin’s lectures are the practical tips and techniques designed to maximize your effectiveness as an artful reader. The Art of Reading gives you a veritable toolbox that you’ll find essential to mining everything you need from a novel or short story.
Here is a sample of Professor Spurgin’s great suggestions for more artful reading:
- Holding an initial reading session: Getting into a book is like getting acquainted with another person, so it’s important to make your first reading session a fairly long one—between one hour and 90 minutes. This will give you enough time to become familiar with the author’s writing style and the characters. Even if you can’t return to the book for days, when you do you’ll still be returning to something familiar.
- “Pre-reading”: Instead of diving headfirst into a new work, leaf through it and explore its organization and structure. Are there chapters, parts, volumes? What might these divisions say about the possible direction of the work? This technique will help make even the lengthiest novel seem less daunting.
- Constantly asking questions: Make a point to ask yourself questions about what you’re reading, such as the motivations of its characters or the potential outcomes of an event. If you keep brief notes about various possibilities as you continue reading, you’ll feel more deeply involved with the characters and their stories.
And these are just a few suggestions! You’ll also learn insights into how to contribute to book club discussions, choose the right translation, notice the “beats” in a particular scene, decipher what characters aren’t saying in their dialogue, and more.
Learn through Literary “Case Studies”
Throughout the lectures, Professor Spurgin uses a host of literary “case studies” to refine and elaborate on the concepts of artful reading. Unlike other literature-themed courses, The Art of Reading focuses less on a literary analysis of works like A Christmas Carol, Jane Eyre, and The Age of Innocence and more on how artful readers can use their skills to recognize why these works are so significant.
Professor Spurgin also uses literary examples to show how you can finally approach works that, in the past, might have seemed intimidating. He shows you how to read and understand Modernist literature (As I Lay Dying), epic novels (War and Peace), and even the differences between reading a novel and a short story.
In today’s busy world, it can be difficult to set aside quality time to savor a great work of literature—the kind of novel or short story that readers have cherished for centuries. After taking this course, you’ll be able to use Professor Spurgin’s suggested tips to get the most out of the valuable time you spend with these and other classic books.
Rediscover the Joy of Reading
Professor Spurgin understands, first and foremost, the sheer joy of reading and just how contagious that joy is. His engaging teaching skills have brought him numerous teaching honors at Lawrence University—and he delivers every lecture of The Art of Reading in this same acclaimed, award-winning style.
At its core, The Art of Reading is not about complicated literary terms and theories. It’s about the wonderful feeling of engaging with a novel or short story on all levels and learning how artful readers think about and approach the works they read. Whether you’re someone who loves curling up with a good book, a writer who is looking for insights into how to get inside your readers’ minds, or a student who wants to contribute to class discussions, there’s something for you to find in this course.
What’s more, you won’t have to comb through shelves of books searching for ways to get more out of your reading. With The Art of Reading, you’ll get a comprehensive and concise package that finally brings together all the myriad ways you can make your future reading experiences more engaging and—most important—more enlightening.
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