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Melony

Reading Deeply

Ok, I realize I am conversing with a group of very intelligent people, but I do have a question about the discrepancy between British reading and American reading on the youthful level.  The topic on Twilight brought it back to mind.  It SEEMS like you have a deeper understanding of novels at a younger age in Britain.  For some reason, American teaching and understanding of novels never seems very deep, although it may be very wide.  Teachers never address the underlying philosophies or references to other works included in a novel, and the art and music of the era, although included as pretty pictures in many texts, are never fully explored.  And yet, we are instituting the same mandatory testing practices for graduation that you have.  I don't feel like we can model our system on yours without having the same underlying values and philosophies.  It's just a question - is everyone a deep reader in your part of the world, wherever you are?
TheRejectAmidHair

Our daughter is now 13, has been in secondary school for 2 years, and has been in the top stream for English for both those years. The school gets good Ofsted reports - i.e. the school inspectors reckon it’s a good school. But in all this time, she has not been required to read a single novel from cover to cover. And she has not studied a single poem. That should give you some idea of our “underlying values and philosophies”.
MikeAlx

I think the British membership of this board is a self-selecting group of lit-lovers, and far from representative of the British public at large.
Melony

Yes, Himadri, I do remember your saying that your daughter has not read anything, novels or poetry, since entering secondary school.  Are they focusing on grammar instead? Or writing?  Although I do remember a conversation with Baron on the old board about not being fully able to write if one has not read.  Over here students her age would be reading things like The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, Bunnicula (there's a vampire novel for you), Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Book Thief, and Harry Potter (in their spare time, not part of the curriculum).

Mike, what you say is correct - this group is not a good yardstick, but I would like to know what the younger members think.  Er, not that you and Himadri are not young...
bookfreak

My grandson, at 13yrs the same age as Himadri's daughter and 2 years into secondary school, has also not read a single novel in school from cover to cover.   In each of the school holidays, though, they are given a list of books and told that they must read one of them and be prepared to write an appreciation upon returning to school the next term.  In each class the pupil awarded the highest marks is presented with a book token.
Edward (an only child) reads quite a lot, mainly biographies, and at the moment is reading a book about Scott of the Antarctic.

In the English class they haven't done any poetry at all, but in the Maltese class they have studied quite a few of the works of the national poet, Dun Karm.
TheRejectAmidHair

Melony wrote:
Yes, Himadri, I do remember your saying that your daughter has not read anything, novels or poetry, since entering secondary school.  Are they focusing on grammar instead? Or writing?  


In short - no. I have no idea what they've been focussing on.

She obviously reads a lot at home, but there's nothing from school as far as I can see.
Melony

Bookfreak and Himadri, I am trying to remember what kind of poetry we may have read as early secondary children and I don't know that I can come up with anything, either.  Well, there was Dante's Inferno, but I did that mostly on my own.  Do you know that poem "I think that I shall never see; a poem as lovely as a tree..."  I do remember that from 6th grade.  Not very much to build a love of poetry on.
Ann

One of the things I found very frustrating with the Literacy Strategy in primary schools was that I couldn't read a whole book to the class but had to forever study extracts. That is OK for showing the beauty or cleverness of a piece of writing, for example Shakespeare,  but not the way to give children a love of reading (in my opinion). We weren't even supposed to have a reading session every day, as we always used to, where the children had to read their own books but had to do a boring thing called guided reading where one made a group analyse a short story or extract while the rest of the class were supposed to flick through a selection of books; in other words look at pictures and talk.
bookfreak

I have just found on my shelves an old school book of my son's, British Poetry since 1945 with an introduction by Edward Lucie-Smith.   I'm not sure how old he was when studying it, but it was a Jesuit secondary school and as it is filled with his pencilled notes on several poems, it could well have been his O-level year in 1978?

Does he still read poetry.....no, never!
miranda

My niece and nephew are 9 and 7 respectively so I shall ask them what they read at school.   They both read a lot at home but that is down to their parents both being readers.   And the family buying books as presents from when the children were very young.
Melony

Ann, I suppose at least a one paragraph exposure to a writer is better than none at all.  Still, modern schooling runs kind of couterintuititive to everything we know makes for good teaching and learning.  Reading is seen as BORING, so why do it, why read all of an author.  Just get the general idea and move on.  Keep the kiddies entertained in 15 minute (second?) sound bytes.  I think you made me realize what I mean by reading deeply.  But, all aspects of life seem just a bit superficial these days, at least here.  Everything is all glitz.   I think we are a tad bit lost here right now (staying away from political statements).  On the philosophical side, there seems to be a movement that says "stay on the surface" because if you go any deeper there will be existential hell to pay.  Twittering is "happy", reading deeply or engaging in any kind of deep thought is "problematic."  It might not be "fun" or it might make us feel bad.

Miranda, I shall be very interested to know what your niece and nephew are reading.
MikeAlx

Melony wrote:
Do you know that poem "I think that I shall never see; a poem as lovely as a tree..."  I do remember that from 6th grade.  Not very much to build a love of poetry on.

I prefer this variant from Ogden Nash:
Quote:
I think that I shall never see
A billboard as lovely as a tree.
Perhaps unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.  
Caro

I wonder if things have really changed that much.  Our system in NZ is different from Britain's, but I don't recall being expected to read novels at school or for school when I was at primary school (which most kids go to till they turn 13 here), and I don't think my kids who are now around 30 did either.  They did at secondary school.  

What I remember was our teacher reading to us at primary school - he seemed to go for Himadri's adventure stories - we heard Treasure Island and one with Martin Frobisher I think as a character.  This still happens here - it is rather delightful when several kids come into the library asking for a certain book and you realise it is the one being read to them at school (again these tend to be adventure books - at the moment Robert Muchamore's books are very popular and John Marsden was read to my son (and he went on to read the rest of the series, some of the very few novels he has read).  

We do, I think, still have DARE in our schools, which is Drop Everything and Read and everyone in the school was expected to do that (including the principal) for quarter of an hour.  

I can't think of any book I was set to read while at primary school though.

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

Oh, I certainly remember having to read full-length novels from cover to cover during my early years in secondary school. I could even list the novels we read! I remember studying poems as well.  I remember also reading A Midsummer Night's Dream in class in our 2nd year in secondary school. I know we do tend to look back with rose-tinted specs, but there's no denying that the curriculum in English (or in any other subject for that matter) is considerably less demanding.

What has improved is treatment of children with learning disabilities. I don't think anyone was even aware in those days of something such as, say, Asperger's Syndrome: any child with such a condition would merely have been dismissed as stupid. So no - I really don't think I'm wearing rose-tinted spectacles at all. But I do think that it is sad, to say the least, that the only encouragement our daughter gets to read comes from home, and none at all from school.
MikeAlx

I recall that from the very first year of primary school (aged 7, probably called Year 3 now) we always had a class reader. Sometimes the teacher would read it to us, other times we'd take turns round the classroom. The first one I recall doing was Stig of the Dump. A few years on we had a visiting library lorry, which we were required to get books out from every few weeks. Each child would have to do a spoken report on the book they'd read - what it was about, whether they liked it, and why. I remember some of the authors that were popular from the 4th year (Year 6?) - Alan Garner, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Helen Creswell, Leon Garfield, Andre Norton, Joan Aiken.

This class reader thing continued into senior school right up until we studied our set books for O-level. I remember doing a novel by Cecil Day Lewis called The Otterbury Incident, then My Family and Other Animals, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Of Mice and Men, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. One of the other classes studied Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? We also studied plays - Macbeth in the 3rd year (Year 9?), also An Inspector Calls, The Long and the Short and the Tall, and Pinter's The Caretaker. This was all before starting on our O-level set works.
Caro

What do you call early secondary school though, Himadri - to me this is years 9 and 10 (13 and 14-year-olds), not earlier.  I can't remember the books we had to read at school before the later years and even then I get a little muddled between them and university where I did English and had a huge reading programme.  Cry the Beloved Country certainly, Shakespeare may not have been before year 11, I think.  Hamlet in year 12 and The Tempest.  Romantic poets sometime.  (I remember Year 12 as we had such a good English teacher, well on the wave-length of his students.)  
My husband can't remember books he had to read at school but did teach ones like The Flight of the Phoenix in Years 9 and 10.  I am remembering Swallows and Amazons but can't remember if the teacher read that to us or if I had to read that myself.  (I went to a school of just 20 kids from 5 to 13 and there just two in my actual class year, just me till the last two years.)

As regards kids with learning disabilities.  My farmer son was teaching (sans any quals at all, except in agriculture and soil sort of things) at an agricultural/trade college in Ipswich.  He was talking about this last night and said all but two of the students (sisters) were on the side of intellectually slow and many of them were dyslexic (and slow according to him).  He said one big problem with these kids is that the letters don't settle for them with black or blue print on white paper, so all these kids are assessed and given coloured paper or a page to go over their reading to help.  He said he had all sorts of coloured paper and would photocopy things individually for each student according to what colour suited them best.  

He said the two bright students didn't have to do any work - with unit standards the teachers just had to say would the student be able to repeat a piece of work correctly.  "Do you know what one and one makes?" "Yes".  Tick yes box.  He didn't know why their parents had put them into this school which seemed just to attract the less intellectual kids.  

My son feels we don't challenge students to the same degree now as earlier, but I'm not sure he would actually know.

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

In England (the Scottish system is slightly different) children stay in primary school till the age of 11, and then go to secondary school. So our daughter, now 13, has nearly completed her 2nd year at secondary school. And I can absolutely guarantee that what she has had to read in her English class is a joke compared to what I remember having read in my English class at a similar age.

I am not saying that the curriculum in our time was demanding: it wasn't - I used to read far more in my own time at home. But our daughter, in he first 2 years at secondary school (between the ages of 11 and 13) has been required to read absolutely nothing at all. And no - the education I had at school was a bit more demanding than this.
Melony

Quote:
I can absolutely guarantee that what she has had to read in her English class is a joke compared to what I remember having read in my English class at a similar age. ..I am not saying that the curriculum in our time was demanding: it wasn't - I used to read far more in my own time at home.


I think this is true.  We don't challenge kids as much as we used to, for many reasons, from what Mike said - that school is kinder for some troubled people now to a kind of post-industrial loss of belief in the need for education.  I don't understand, for instance, why we have college graduates who can't speak the King's English, as we say here.  It would seem blatantly obvious to me that the teacher should be the smartest person in the room, but he/she often mixes up person and number.  I'm at a loss to explain it.

I do remember being read to in elementary school (grades K - 6), but I also remember reading "chapter books" like Swiss Family Robinson, The Boxcar Kids, The Bobsey Twins, Treasure Island, Little Women, and biographies.  They regularly took us to the library to check out books and had book fairs for us to buy our own.  By high school we were reading Animal Farm, Romeo and Juliet, Ray Bradbury, Orwell, Huxley, Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Twain, Poe, Falkner, Steinbeck, Buck, Fitzgeald, Macbeth, and Cooleridge, Keats, Shelley, Donne, Blake, Milton - the list goes on and on.  I'd like to meet a student (in my town) who could now finish "Tiger, Tiger,  burning bright," or even tell me who wrote it.
bookfreak

I've just quizzed my grandson (13) on books used at school for English literature classes.   He says yes, this last year they have read Midnight Feast and it was
Quote:
OK
but he can't remember who the author is!    
No poetry at all in English, but next year they will have.  This year they had a little poetry in Maltese and Italian classes.
Sandraseahorse

I can't remember what books we studied in the first two years of my grammar school; I think we were encouraged to pick books to read on our own and then do presentations to the class on what we thought of them.  I vaguely remember a class read of "The History of Mr. Polly."

We started studying Shakespeare at 13.  I remember this as we moved when I was 14 and at my new school did "As You Like It" , which I had just studied at my previous school.  I wasn't very pleased.  However, we then did "Henry IV Part 1" and "Henry V", which I enjoyed.

In my first year at Wimbledon High, aged 14, we studied in class "Pride and Prejudice", Hardy's "Return of the Native" and "Mill on the Floss".  We had to read chapters at home and then in class we would be asked questions and the teacher would elaborate on the plot and characterisations.  I remember our English teacher being furious that she had to teach "Lord of the Flies" for English Literature O-level as she considered this to be inferior to the books we had previously studied in class.  She would go on about how O-levels were intellectually inferior to the old Matriculation system.

I suppose this just goes to show how allegations of "dumbing down" have always been around.
TheRejectAmidHair

Sandraseahorse wrote:
I suppose this just goes to show how allegations of "dumbing down" have always been around.


Yes, and I suppose further  that these allegations were right then, as they are now.

I certainly wasn't challenged by my English classes until my final year at school, when we had an English teacher who - much to our surprise - insisted on stretching us. But before this final year, I know that I was reading books at home far in advance of the books we were studying in the English class. But at least we were sudying something in the English class ...
Melony

Quote:
an English teacher who - much to our surprise - insisted on stretching us.



Himadri, it is interesting that you mention the word "stretch" as today extending the lesson for more critical thinking or deeper insight is called "stretch learning.."

I'm thinking of three books, Hofstadter's 1963 The Anti-Intellectualism of America (can't remember if that is the exact title or not), (1988?) Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, and E.D. Hisrch's books from the '90's on cultural literacy (penned because of American students' supposed illiteracy).  And today's The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein.  Every decade someone writes one.

Of course, I'm also thinking of Hesiod's quote that if our future depends on the quality of our youth, we are in trouble...7th century B.C....
MikeAlx

I have to say I doubt there can be many English classes where a teacher could stretch the likes of a Himadri without seriously leaving behind the majority of the class.

I went to a state grammar school which creamed off the 'most able' 15% of the local population; even so there was a broad range of ability in the classes. I think the reason we did quite a few fairly challenging books was simply that there was an intellectual culture of aiming high. Most of our staff held degrees from the most prestigious universities - many from Oxford or Cambridge (even so, some of the teaching left a lot to be desired!).

But I think talking about 'stretching' or otherwise misses the point - the point is that the government's education policy-makers seriously undervalue the importance of literature, and the idea of reading for pleasure. They are only interested in producing a functionally literate workforce.

Caro - the use of coloured overlays has been proven to be highly effective for certain types of dyslexia. There was a TV programme about this some years back. The colours that work vary from person to person, and some dyslexics don't get any benefit. But at least dyslexia is being recognised these days - back in my day, many dyslexics were simply labelled as slow or stupid or troublemakers. I used to know someone who experienced this; she was eventually dumped in a school for 'problem kids', and left the place with no qualifications. However, she's one of those people who's unstoppable once they decide to do something. She later went back to education, passed her A-levels, and went on to get a degree. It was only when studying for her degree that her dyslexia was finally noticed and she got a diagnosis.
Melony

Yes, my son, who is 21, was just diagnosed with a learning disorder a couple of months ago.  Why no one noticed it during his school years is  unfathomable.  It's very hard from a parent's standpoint to think your child will always have this struggle.  But, at least it is better understood now than in the past.
Apple

Melonie Wrote
Quote:
Ok, I realize I am conversing with a group of very intelligent people, but I do have a question about the discrepancy between British reading and American reading on the youthful level.  The topic on Twilight brought it back to mind.  It SEEMS like you have a deeper understanding of novels at a younger age in Britain.  For some reason, American teaching and understanding of novels never seems very deep, although it may be very wide.  Teachers never address the underlying philosophies or references to other works included in a novel, and the art and music of the era, although included as pretty pictures in many texts, are never fully explored.  And yet, we are instituting the same mandatory testing practices for graduation that you have.  I don't feel like we can model our system on yours without having the same underlying values and philosophies.  It's just a question - is everyone a deep reader in your part of the world, wherever you are?


Well now all the intelligent people have had their say, I will put my two pennyworth in!

I think it depends on the person and the type of books they are reading, and the way those books engage them or not for example I adore the harry potters I have read things into the harry potter books which others who have read them never even thought of, and I was correct about a few factors which happened as I saw them coming from as early as the 3rd book. I also adore Wuthering Heights and I read things into that which others cannot see because they don't like it and therefore read different things into it. Now as I mentioned on the Twilight thread I could not get past the fact I thought the girl was a waste of space and because of that I did not see anything else in the book.  My 13 year old daughter on the other hand loves Twilight and reads different things into it. She shares my love of reading, my son however, (he is 11) bless him suffers with dyslexia and reading and writing have always been viewed as a chore to him, and hard work so he reads when he is forced to, and he does not enjoy reading for pleasure if you were to ask him about a story he would probably answer with what he has been told from the page and not delve any deeper.

So in short after rambling for ages, if you "like" reading and enjoy reading you are going to get more out of it and read more into a story and the characters than someone who doesn't - obvious really, and if what you are reading engages you you tend to read things into it past the words, and find things in there, and I don't think it has anything to do with teaching I believe its more instinct coming from the character of the reader, and has nothing whatsoever to do with school. (but then again I could be talking a load of crap!)
Melony

It's not a load of crap at all, Apple!  It makes perfect sense.  I do think that both teachers and professors can give us a certain intellectual insight into novels and draw out our comprehension of a work, but having insights and understandings about novels are not contingent upon having a degree at all.  Experience, age, and timing, are examples of things that are more affective, if you will, in the reading of a story than anything a teacher can tell us.
TheRejectAmidHair

There are a number of interesting issues to be discussed here, but we should probably guard against going off on grumpy old rants about dumbing-down and “kids these days”. (And yes – I know it is I who am most liable to go on such rants!) Before we start talking about “reading deeply”, we should perhaps make some attempt to define, or, at least, to understand, what it is to “read deeply”.

I’m a bit tied up at the moment to write anything worth reading, but I’ll give this matter some thought, and return to it later. In the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts on defining what it means to “read deeply”, please do feel free to post them.
Caro

Yes, indeed we should guard against it.  I know my kids are perhaps a bit older than those under discussion and perhaps they and their partners are not the product of their education, but I am constantly overwhelmed by the articulance and intelligence and knowledge of the young people I know.  They can talk politics, literature, celebrities, social issues, sports, science, and all with accuracy (as far as I can tell - they know more than me!) and assurance.  Too much assurance really - I would quite like to hear some of them say, "I don't know" occasionally!  They are not generally perfect on history, though even then my son the other day was able to discuss the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings quite adequately.  Even my young nephew who left school quite young and has just wandered the world since them (now at university) is able to argue very cogently his green view of the world with detail and statistics to back him up.  (Possibly  only a couple of these kids would know much about writers, and that would generally be novelists - they may be a little light on poetry.  It doesn't come up often in our discussions.)

I admit that my teacher family don't think the British education system stacks up against the NZ one, but I doubt if they are that different.  

Cheers, Caro.
MikeAlx

Caro wrote:
Too much assurance really - I would quite like to hear some of them say, "I don't know" occasionally!


As Oscar Wilde once quipped, "I am not young enough to know everything".  Wink
TheRejectAmidHair

Obviously “kids today” are no different from kids of my generation: human beings have not changed biologically over a single generation, after all. However, comparing the standards expected from our children at school to the standards I remember from my own schooldays, the conclusion is inescapable that these standards have declined dramatically – and not merely in English. This is not the kids’ fault, of course. But none of this is germane, I think, to the issue of what it is to “read deeply”.

Quite frequently, the terms employed to recommend a book make me feel that this is not really the kind of book I particularly want to read. I’m told, for instance, that a book is such a good read that I’ll race through it in no time. I smile politely and say I’ll look into it, but I think to myself that if one can race through a book, it can only be because there’s not much substance to make one pause and ponder. After all, who would race through The Brothers Karamazov? Who would even think of trying to finish The Wings of the Dove within a couple of days?

Or I’m told that the book is a compulsive page-turner. And I think to myself that the best books are those that make you want to linger over its pages – where, far from being impatient to know what’s on the next page, you want to read over again the page you’ve just read – to savour it, to think about it.

Or I’m told that you wouldn’t want to put the book down. But a good book needs to be put down frequently to allow one time to think over what one has just read.

Not all books are worthy of being read in depth, for the simple reason that not all books have much depth in the first place. Most don’t. That does not necessarily make them bad books as such: no-one is claiming there’s much depth in say, The Count of Monte Cristo or in Flashman at the Charge – and these are wonderful reads. But these books do not need to be read in depth because there is no depth to them.

(That does not mean, of course, that we should switch our minds off when we read such books. A novel that sets out to tell a rattling good story need not possess depth, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t standards to be applied. Something like The Da Vinci Code may not aim for any great literary or intellectual depth, but that is no excuse for it being such shoddily-written tosh.)

But when one does come across a novel that has depth (let’s just stick to novels for the moment), then a response is required from the reader that goes beyond merely following the story.

What more is required is not easy to specify, as the demands made on the reader are different for each book: to paraphrase a famous opening line, all shallow books are alike, but each deep book is deep in its own particular way. But novels such as, say, Clarissa, Madame Bovary, Fathers and Sons, Middlemarch, The Ambassadors, Nostromo, The Trial, The Magic Mountain etc. etc. all set out to do far more than merely tell a story. Indeed, the story in itself is so unimportant in many of these works, the author virtually does away with it altogether. Faulkner, for instance, wrote in such a way as to obscure the story as far as possible: the story is not what he was interested in.

There are, of course, certain works which can work at different levels – the works of Austen, say, or of Dickens (and it’s not surprising that they are probably the most popular of the “classic” 19th century novelists). If one wants only to read their novels merely at the level of enjoying a good story, one can do that; and if one wants to spend the time & effort to dig deeper, then one can do that also. But with most books that require the reader to dig deep, a mere glance at the surface yields very little. It’s a case of “drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring”.

To me, any novel with depth aspires to communicate to the reader a certain vision (for want of a better word) of life – a certain way at looking at our human existence. To absorb a great novel is to change the way we look upon life. Once one has absorbed Anna Karenina, say, or In Search of Lost Time, one’s perceptions become expanded: one begins to look on life differently. And books such as these demand to be re-read – they demand to be lived with: rarely do they make their full impact instantly. Rather, the process whereby they enter into the reader’s mind is a process of slow osmosis. I can enjoy a Flashman novel, put it aside, and then go on to the next one: but this is no way to approach Don Quixote or Ulysses.

To get the most out of such works, a great deal is demanded of the reader. I don’t know that these reading skills can be taught, as such: there’s no handy check-list of items to be ticked off. These skills can only develop with practice. But all the same, readers who would like to read serious literature and who are new to it would be well advised, I think, to slow down their reading: a good book is not one that can be raced through. They’d be well-advised as well to think beyond the storyline: a plot is no more than a means of communicating more important matters. Indeed, quite frequently, the plot in itself comes very low in the order of priority. To say that a novel such as, say, The Magic Mountain “doesn’t have much of a plot” is a foolish criticism.

Readers would also be well advised as well to focus on how the story is being told, on the special features of the writer’s prose style, and why the writer used this particular prose style: why is Hemingway’s prose so sparse, for instance, and Faulkner’s prose so ornate? What were their aims in using these styles?

There are so many other things to consider: imagery, and the way the various images are developed through the novel; the construction, the structure, and the pacing; the moral and philosophical issues (Dostoyevsky’s novels, say, are more or less incomprehensible if one does not consider such matters); the nature of the characterisation, and how they contribute to the overall picture; and so on. In any novel of any depth at all, such things (and many, many others) need to be considered. These novels may not reveal their riches all at first reading, or at first thinking: this is why they need to be read over and over again, and thought about repeatedly.

Of course, most novels don’t require anything at all of this nature. But I always feel it’s a great shame to approach a novel that really does have great depths, and then to miss out on those depths by merely skimming the surface.
MikeAlx

I can't think of anything significant to add to what you've written, but I do recall a discussion (years ago) with a friend about Lady Chatterley's Lover. I was saying that I found the articulation of the theme of nature versus industrialised society heavy-handed and corny, and didn't agree with the Rousseau-like 'noble savage' ideology. He looked at me as if I was mad, and said: "it's just a story about a posh woman who shags the gamekeeper." Despite being highly intelligent and fairly well-educated, he was convinced I was imagining these other things; that they weren't things Lawrence had intentionally put in the book.

I don't think I'm the world's deepest reader by any stretch of the imagination, but if you've had much exposure to literature, and particularly the critical study of literature, you do tend to pick up on these subtexts and thematic arguments. Can it really be no more than a simple arbitrary fact that Chatterley's husband Clifford has been rendered impotent and sterile by the first great industrial war? Surely it's meant to symbolise something? Especially when you consider other articulations of the argument, such as the way Lawrence describes the sterile landscape of Wragby, the grim, drab mining town, or contrasts the stiff, civilised but impotent Clifford with the vulgar, vibrant gamekeeper? And of course there are literary precedents to think of too - isn't Clifford really a modern echo of the Fisher King? In that story, as in Lawrence's, the ruination of the landscape is deployed as a metaphorical echo of the King's own sterility.

Well, maybe I just read too much into these things...  Wink
Caro

I don't think you can exactly teach depth of reading completely.  After all I have a good English degree which concentated on literature and which did only English papers for the last two years, but you would hardly say that my reading depth is anything vaguely approaching Himadri's.  Indeed I am fairly hopeless at noticing symbolism - I remember reading a review of a short story when I was studying which criticised the heavy-handed Christian symbolism.  I hadn't even realised it was there!

However, it is hard for people to think past the story if they haven't been taught what to look for at all.  People criticise teaching for spoiling reading and literature by concentrating on the mechanics.  But if you haven't been taught about themes, structure, symbolism, characterisation, word composition, poetic language etc you are unlikely to come to these notions yourself as an ordinary reader.  Because I haven't done much literary criticism I find myself at a loss when people talk of some of its ideas and language, and would probably gain more from my reading if I understood that more.  

Of course, you can over-analyse and that probably does detract from enjoying lighter books.  If you don't notice punctuation or spelling errors or typos, or words used repetitively and carelessly, or poorly structured sentences, then you won't be held up by being irritated by them.  Conversely you may not notice the reverse, of course, when writing is carefully crafted and the style fits the subject matter and themes.

I would part company a little with Himadri who feels the best authors are always in control of their materials and of what can be found in these works.  I have seen at times (good) authors saying that readers have found elements in their works that the author has been unaware of putting there - not that they aren't there, but just that it wasn't deliberate as people assume.  Just the other day I read an author surprised at what people had found in his novels which he hadn't himself realised could be seen.  I suspect that some writers work at least partially on instinct.  (And that people often do find symbolism that is not deliberately there - the notes for my Merchant of Venice is forever leading me to a Bible quotation when I think the phrase could well have been used without Shakespeare thinking at all of the Biblical reference.  Gratiano telling Nerissa 'cheer yond stranger' reminds my editor of Matthew 25.35: 'I was a stranger and ye took me in'.  It seems to me easy to put in a sentence to welcome a stranger without it needing to refer to that.)

Have got a little side-tracked here and probably not added much of use to the discussion.

Cheers, Caro.
Castorboy

Caro wrote:
I have seen at times (good) authors saying that readers have found elements in their works that the author has been unaware of putting there - not that they aren't there, but just that it wasn't deliberate as people assume.  

And that people often do find symbolism that is not deliberately there.

Have got a little side-tracked here and probably not added much of use to the discussion.

On the contrary because I agree with those two points! Surely we are in danger of over-emphasising a writer's allusions at times? With a common English literature background we are bound to find familiar themes, characters and situations.
MikeAlx

I agree with Caro that writers, like all artists, do often work on instinct rather than intellect - or, to put it another way, it is as often the subconscious that does the work as the conscious, at least in the initial draft stage.* This is probably the source of a lot of symbolic imagery, which of course makes it harder to prove it's "intentional".

Nonetheless, image, metaphor and symbolism are well-established rhetorical devices, so can't just be ignored. And there are cases where, if you ignore them, there really isn't much significance left to a story. For example, if we decide there's no wider symbolic intention to The Old Man and the Sea, we are left with merely a mundane yarn about an unsuccessful fishing trip. It stretches credibility to think this was the limit of Hemingway's artistic ambition.


*I have heard aspiring writers say things like 'should I just write the story first, then go back through and put in the symbolism?' This seems absurd to my mind; the symbolism should be so intrinsic to the story as to be almost inseperable - an organic component, rather than an extra layer dumped on the top as an afterthought.
TheRejectAmidHair

MikeAlx wrote:
Nonetheless, image, metaphor and symbolism are well-established rhetorical devices, so can't just be ignored. And there are cases where, if you ignore them, there really isn't much significance left to a story. For example, if we decide there's no wider symbolic intention to The Old Man and the Sea, we are left with merely a mundane yarn about an unsuccessful fishing trip. It stretches credibility to think this was the limit of Hemingway's artistic ambition.


Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more.

There are certain kinds of writers who were happy to content themselves with telling a good story well (Dumas, Conan Doyle, etc), but a great many literary artists aspired beyond that. They aspired to communicate certain things that are too complex, or too profound, or too elusive and intangible, to be told simply and directly. So they employed all sorts of other means to communicate what would otherwise have been incommunicable, and metaphor and symbolism are amongst these means. These are not, as Mike says, extra add-ons; and neither are they puzzles set deliberately to tax the reader’s ingenuity. These are integral parts of the work. Hemingway did not write a fishing yarn and then add in a few bits & pieces of symbolism just to test the reader.

And it makes absolutely no difference whether or not the writer intended them consciously, or whether they came about subconsciously. All that matters to us, as readers, is that these things are there. For all we know, Shakespeare may have written Hamlet after a night out on the booze, and all the depths and complexities that we discern in the play are all mere accidents. Who cares? As long as the depths are there, that’s all that matters.

And incidentally, Mike, I agree with you that much in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is heavy-handed, but to see it merely as a story of a “posh woman shagging a gamekeeper” is, as you say, incredibly undiscerning: it betrays a complete lack of understanding of what literature is about.

To appreciate literature, one has to see it in all its complexity. Otherwise, if one sees it only in simplistic terms, one diminishes its value. Possibly this is why schools do not encourage "deep reading": I can't help feeling that we as a society do not discern the value of literature because we insist on reducing it to its simplest terms.
Caro

Last night I replied to Mike, but my mouse has an irritating thing on the side that takes it back a stage and it got lost and it was too late to start again.  Basically I was just agreeing with him anyway.  I am sure Lawrence (though it is a very long time since I read him) did intend a great deal of symbolism and ideas among his story.  And I should hope there is something more to The Old Man and the Sea than the story - ghastly book for me - went on and on the same theme and the same situtation.  Just exactly the sort of book I don't like.  

I am just at the moment a little irritated by the notes to The Merchant of Venice which the editor seems to be reducing to a religious play by his constant reminders of where in the Bible a certain reference (which doesn't seem to me always much to do with the SS quote he is comparing it to anyway), so I am just feeling a bit uncertain about seeing too many allusions in a work.  

And I think perhaps there are times when the read DOES see things in a work that Shakespeare or Dickens have not thought about (especially when they see analogies with modern-day living or push their own agendas onto works).  

As far as I can tell kids at the upper level of secondary school are taught how to analyse a piece of writing and some of the essays these kids write about them are very fine indeed and certainly see a lot more than I have in the literature they are discussing.  

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

Which edition of The Merchant of Venice do you have, Caro?

On the matter of picking up allusions, it shouldn't be a cse of ticking off boxes, as it were: if something rings certain bells for you - fine: if not, don't worry about it - a note pointing out an allusion that you missed (or you think is spurious) is not going to help your understanding. Sometimes, classroom teaching of literature does present works as sort of crossword puzzles to be solved. I personally don't see The Merchant of Venice as a particularly religious play,

Personally, I don't like notes that offer interpretations. The notes should clarify textual issues (many of these plays have come down in different editions, and they were all subject to printing errors); they should tell us the different meanings of certain lesser-known words - especially when the meanings have changed over time; and, perhaps, give us cross-references to other contemporary uses of certain words. In short, the notes should be strictly factual. If the editor wants to offer interpretation, that should be done in the introductory essays.

Going back to the theme of this thread, I do feel that it is important to read deeply when one is reading a work that contains depth; and that it is worthwhile here to try to come to some sort of understanding of what we mean by "deep reading", and why it is important.
Caro

So as not to distract this thread further, Himadri, I will put some of the notes and the edition etc of my Merchant of Venice back onto that thread in a moment.

Cheers, Caro.
Melony

Quote:
Going back to the theme of this thread, I do feel that it is important to read deeply when one is reading a work that contains depth; and that it is worthwhile here to try to come to some sort of understanding of what we mean by "deep reading", and why it is important.


One thing I meant by reading deeply when I first posed the question can be explained by The Master and Margarita.  Himadri, I bought the translation you recommended and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  The author has used copious footnotes to explain the innuendos and references, e.g. explaining that Old Immanuel is Kant, which seems self-evident enough, but maybe not to someone who has never read his works?  That's one interpretation of being able to read deeply, i.e. understanding those things without having to be told what they are.

Another way is as the conversation has been running about seeing things in the works that may or may not have been intended by the author.  (That's a great topic!)  I think reading deeply is the difference between "Wow, I didn't read it that way at all, I saw it like this..." and "I didn't get anything out of it at all."  

And then there are those instances in which you analyze a piece of literature for a professor only to be told it's b.s. and then twenty years later a famous literary analyst says the same thing and is considered a genius! Smile

But on a serious note, reading deeply is important because, as with anything in life, we can either get it fully or just stay on the surface.  The point is not that it is good or bad, but just that it is.  I guess it correlates with Kegan's theory of "Ways of Knowing," and whether a person is an instrumental, socializing, or self-authoring person.  The ways of knowing are not good or bad and don't indicate life happiness, but I would untimately rather be self-authoring.  I would also rather be a deep reader.  There could be lots of metaphors for deep reading, such as the difference between being asked to the big dance and actually dancing and living fully, and in just sitting there as a wallflower, hanging back from the actual dancing.  Both can be fun and fully rewarding, but I would rather be dancing.
Melony

p.s. Himadri, you mentioned Faulkner, and have mentioned his works before.  I just returned from his house in Oxford, Mississippi.  I could definitely read and write deeply there - it was very peaceful.  I also fully expected to see John Grisham at lunch in the town square!  Here is a picture of Rowan Oak, Faulkner's house, that I took while there:
[img]
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TheRejectAmidHair

Melony wrote:
One thing I meant by reading deeply when I first posed the question can be explained by The Master and Margarita.  Himadri, I bought the translation you recommended and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  The author has used copious footnotes to explain the innuendos and references, e.g. explaining that Old Immanuel is Kant, which seems self-evident enough, but maybe not to someone who has never read his works?  That's one interpretation of being able to read deeply, i.e. understanding those things without having to be told what they are.


I don't think that's quite what I meant by "reading deeply". The example you give is really no more than having sufficient general knowledge to pick up certain explicit references. That does not, I think, require any great depth on the reader's part.

By "reading deeply", I mean seeing in a novel such as The Master and Margarita a greater significance than merely the storyline. I mean having the ability to take in something of the author's artistic vision, of the author's view of life as expressed indirectly or obliquely in the novel. I mean the ability not merely to recognise, but to interpret.

(Incidentally, I think the notes in the edition of The Master and Margarita that I mentioned are by the translators rather than by the author. They're neatly tucked away at the end, so one need not to be bothered by them if one prefers not to disturb the flow of the reading.)

Most books do not require to be read in depth, of course: that is because most novels don't have any depth to start with.

Thanks for the picture of Faulkner's house, by the way! It's just as I imagined it would be!
Melony

Yes, but if you can't even get the allusions, how can you understand what the author is talking about?

Ultimately, I agree with you - it is the interpretation of the author's works that gives deeper meaning.  But, you say that in most novels the deeper meaning is not there.  Couldn't a novel be likened to a painting?  Say, Cronus Eating His Children by Goya.  It looks on the surface like it says something mythical, when the artist meant for it to be a modern political statement.  Don't you think novelists supply us with the same kind of experience, especially something like The Master and Margarita.

Are we speaking then about the absolutely subjective experience of a piece of literature?  When a majority of readers interpret the piece a certain way, does that cansensus comprise the valid interpretation?


(Rowan Oak was very peaceful, but not ostentacious at all.  Oxford, Miss. gave off that peaceful, graceful Southern charm that we associate with Southern Gothic - under the genteel veneer lies murder and the proverbial skeleton in the closet.)
TheRejectAmidHair

Quote:
Yes, but if you can't even get the allusions, how can you understand what the author is talking about?


Two points here:

1. Mere allusion in itself does not constitute “depth”.
2. If an allusion does lead to deeper significance, then recognising that allusion may be a step towards understanding the depths, but does not in itself constitute a “deep reading”. This is because the act of recognising requires no depth of response from the reader.

Quote:
Ultimately, I agree with you - it is the interpretation of the author's works that gives deeper meaning.


I don’t think I said that. I don’t think a reader’s reaction can give anything to a book. But this leads us into deep waters that are tangential to what we are discussing, so let us not go there.

Quote:
But, you say that in most novels the deeper meaning is not there.  Couldn't a novel be likened to a painting?  Say, Cronus Eating His Children by Goya.  It looks on the surface like it says something mythical, when the artist meant for it to be a modern political statement.  Don't you think novelists supply us with the same kind of experience, especially something like The Master and Margarita.  


Yes, they could. But most novels don’t. Most paintings don’t either. Most novels, like most paintings, are shallow.

Quote:
Are we speaking then about the absolutely subjective experience of a piece of literature?


If it is “absolute”, then, by definition, it cannot be subjective.

Quote:
When a majority of readers interpret the piece a certain way, does that consensus comprise the valid interpretation?


No, for the majority may be wrong.
Melony

Quote:
I mean the ability not merely to recognise, but to interpret.



You may not have meant it, but you said it two messages ago.  

Are we talking about the novel's depth or the reader's depth?  I think maybe when I posed the topic, it was based on the reader's depth, saying that students in Britain seem to read more deeply than those in America, because they are better educated and get the material.

The understanding of what the author says, of allusions and "getting" the material, does lead to the second kind of understanding, which is having insight into what the author was trying to tell us.

What if the author does not even know what is inside him, but a story is dying to get out and so he writes it.  Then the story becomes a post facto analysis of something he did not even know at the time and may not even own up to.  But many of the names, allusions, settings, imagery are just logical associations, maybe not even intended consciously by the author, but part of the archetypal pantheon, and now we are into Jung.
TheRejectAmidHair

Melony wrote:
Quote:
I mean the ability not merely to recognise, but to interpret.
You may not have meant it, but you said it two messages ago.  


What I said two messages ago is that depth of reading is apparent in the ability to interpret, and not in the ability merely to recognise. What I did not say is that a reader’s interpretation can give depth to a book. This is what you said in your previous message:

Melony wrote:
Ultimately, I agree with you - it is the interpretation of the author's works that gives deeper meaning.


I did not say this. The reader cannot give the work depth.

But to move on:

Melony wrote:
Are we talking about the novel's depth or the reader's depth?


Both, I think. If there is no depth in the writing, then no depth is required in the reading.

Melony wrote:
I think maybe when I posed the topic, it was based on the reader's depth, saying that students in Britain seem to read more deeply than those in America, because they are better educated and get the material.


In the absence of reliable statistics on this matter, I think we can only regard this as a hypothesis not proven.

Melony wrote:
The understanding of what the author says, of allusions and "getting" the material, does lead to the second kind of understanding, which is having insight into what the author was trying to tell us.


Indeed. And it is, I think, this second type of understanding that requires depth of reading, and not the first.

I do appreciate what you are saying: that if one can’t even take the first step, then the second is out of the question. I do not know if that is necessarily the case: depth in literature is not a consequence solely of allusion. But even if we were to grant this point, it remains the case that the depth of the reader’s response comes in the interpretation, and not in the recognition.

Quote:
What if the author does not even know what is inside him, but a story is dying to get out and so he writes it.  Then the story becomes a post facto analysis of something he did not even know at the time and may not even own up to.  But many of the names, allusions, settings, imagery are just logical associations, maybe not even intended consciously by the author, but part of the archetypal pantheon, and now we are into Jung.


I haven’t read any Jung, I’m afraid, and only know of some of his ideas second hand. But if you mean that it is possible that there may be elements in a work that the author had not consciously intended, then I agree with you.
Melony

Quote:
Melony wrote:
I think maybe when I posed the topic, it was based on the reader's depth, saying that students in Britain seem to read more deeply than those in America, because they are better educated and get the material.  


In the absence of reliable statistics on this matter, I think we can only regard this as a hypothesis not proven.


There are some resonably reliable statistics, if we can rely on statistics to accurately predict the whole population.  For example, from this study:

Sweden and England had the highest achievement in reading for literary purposes. In reading for information purposes, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria were the top performers.

Students in the United States showed an unusual degree of variability in their score results. They finished 4th in reading for literary purposes, but tied for 13th in reading for information purposes.


I don't know if this makes it true or not, but it is one indicator.

Yes, I am saying that elements can be found in works that were not intended by the author.
TheRejectAmidHair

Melony, thanks for those quotes. I was not aware that this has been studied. However, before the findings of this study can be endorsed, one has to know a few things about the design of the study, and of the analysis. I am a statistician myself by profession, and have been involved in designing statistical studies, in collecting data, and in analysis. And I know from experience how very easy it is to design a study in such a way as to get the results one wants. I am not saying that the results of this study aren’t valid: but I’d need to know far more about the design of the study and about the analysis of the data before I could pass any comment on them. The statements you quote are not, in themselves, conclusive of anything.

There are many details relating to a statistical study that it is perhaps best not to get involved in here. But amongst other things, I’d be particularly interested to know what measure is used to determine the level of “reading for literary purposes”. I certainly cannot imagine how something so very nebulous could be empirically measured.

But let us not get bogged down on this specific point. In my post at the bottom of Page 3 of this thread, I tried to understand what it means to “read deeply”. I put forward a number of suggestions on this point. And I stand by my statements that:

- Most books do not have depth, and therefore do not require to be read in depth
- Recognising specific allusions requires from the reader a certain level of general knowledge, but the mere act of recognition does not constitute “deep reading”
Melony

Agreed on those points with one reservation.  When you say most books do not have depth, what do you mean by "most"?  We are starting to get into value definitions. Smile I think "many" books do have deep meaning, especially the kinds of books  to which I am attracted and to which I think you are attracted, too, and many readers on this board.  For example, except for the possible new novel by A.S. Byatt mentioned by Klara, I would say that most of her writings start out with the intent of achieving a deep meaning.  Other meanings are later added, like layers of an onion, by the reader?  Is it just because humans look for patterns - the patterns don't really exist and the novel is actually "flat"?

I don't want to get the conversation bogged down, either.  I realize you are a statistician and need more convincing, but that is just one of many international tests given over the course of the last twenty years that puts the U.S. below everyone else, although I have not really consistently kept track of where England falls in such categories.  Not that the U.S. is far behind others...
Chibiabos83

I don't know if you are aware of a book called Bad Science, Melony - it may not have made it across the pond - but I think it might appeal to you, given the non-fiction books you often read. It's by a journalist (and practising doctor) called Ben Goldacre and grew out of a column (later blog) he wrote for the Guardian. It debunks a lot of the popular reporting of science. I found it fascinating. It springs to mind here because it is as a result of reading the book that I am now sceptical of any statistics reported in the press (or even in more reputable sources). The book shows many of the ways in which a fair test can be skilfully avoided if the researchers running any survey have a particular agenda they wish to espouse.
Melony

Thanks so much for that recommendation, Chibiabos - I have heard of that book and should have read it before now.  I know the stats get debunked every once in awhile.  The primary testing companies are PISA
http://www.pisa.oecd.org/pages/0,...252351_32235907_1_1_1_1_1,00.html and TIMSS, http://nces.ed.gov/timss/, sponsored by the U.S. government.  They are legit tests, but even those can have flaws.
TheRejectAmidHair

It is now quite late on Friday night, and, having had a few drinks, I have shed my inhibitions sufficiently to say openly what I'd been too polite to say this afternoon. And it is this: I think the statistical "conclusions" about the level of reading for reading for literary purposes (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) are complete and utter nonsense. There. I've said it. In vino veritas, and all that.

Melony, tomorrow morning, I shall - alas! - be sober again, and, no doubt,  shall go baclk merely to espressing some guarded scepticism about it all. But in the meantime ... hic! ... Anyone fancy a pint?
miranda

I'll have a pint of whatever you're drinking!
Caro

I used to do some of the interviews for an international literacy survey.  I do not think there was any agenda with this, other than to compare literacy standards throughout the world.  The results may have been used by those with some agenda, but that is a different matter.  

The survey I did would not have been the same as this one - I don't think it differentiated literary reading from other sorts.  It is a while since I carried out the one I did, but comprehension was the main way of testing, I suppose.

I did have some concerns with the validity of the surveys though and wondered if they really quite tested what they assumed they did.  They began with a small test to ensure people had the ability to read at all, and some people were filtered out at this stage (with their results counting for the stats, of course).  My problem with the survey was that it was VERY long if you were to prove yourself in the top echelon of reading ability.  I had to leave them something to fill out themselves, I think, which took an hour or so.  Then while I was with them, we could be up to three hours going through the survey.  It seemed to me to be something of a test of stamina and staying power as much as literacy (though of course it was testing this too).  

But this survey, I am sure, has high standing and is very carefully designed; I suspect the same is true of the one Melony mentioned too.  These international surveys are usually done with a lot of attention and knowledge.  We aren't talking about shonky surveys without proper checks and balances here.  

Even at my level we were well trained and expected to follow instructions to the letter.

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

Caro wrote:
But this survey, I am sure, has high standing and is very carefully designed; I suspect the same is true of the one Melony mentioned too.  These international surveys are usually done with a lot of attention and knowledge.  We aren't talking about shonky surveys without proper checks and balances here.  


I haven't had the time to look at the website Melony provides the link to, but I personally do not trust any survey that sets out to measure "achievement in reading for literary purposes". Something that cannot even be defined certainly cannot be measured.

But let us not get bogged down in this. I have no serious objection to the hypothesis that the English are more literary than Americans. I still think this is a hypothesis that cannot be proven, but it's not something I feel sufficiently strongly about to wish to debate it further. The more interesting topic here (for me, at any rate) is the question of what counts as deep reading. And I'd be interested in any further ideas on that.

Melony, when I say that most books do not require deep reading, I mean just that: most books - i.e. a majority of books - do not require any depth of response from the reader at all. This is because most books are aimed at a mass market, and in that market, the plot is the most important element. And it requires no depth on the reader's part merely to follow a plot.

This does not mean, of course, that these books are necessarily bad books. Some of my favourite books have nothing beyond the plot - from Treasure Island to The Hound of the Baskervilles to Right Ho Jeeves. These are all very enjoyable books, and are wonderful reads: but let's not pretend that they have any depth to them, or that they require from the reader anything but a basic ability to follow the plot.

And finally...
Miranda wrote:
I'll have a pint of whatever you're drinking!


A pint of the best malt whisky for Miranda!
miranda

Whey hey!
Melony

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
It is now quite late on Friday night, and, having had a few drinks, I have shed my inhibitions sufficiently to say openly what I'd been too polite to say this afternoon. And it is this: I think the statistical "conclusions" about the level of reading for reading for literary purposes (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) are complete and utter nonsense. There. I've said it. In vino veritas, and all that.

Melony, tomorrow morning, I shall - alas! - be sober again, and, no doubt,  shall go baclk merely to espressing some guarded scepticism about it all. But in the meantime ... hic! ... Anyone fancy a pint?


I do! I do!   Very Happy   Please do not stand on ceremony, Himadri.  Say what you want to say, snockered or not!  And don't have bigreader's remorse in the morning.  And good God, Miranda will have a pint of malt whiskey - what a woman!


Caro, I think you are right, the surveys are as legit as possible and are taken very seriously.
Goodnight all -
Melony
TheRejectAmidHair

I am now completely sober, and am drinking a mug of coffee.

I had a look at the links you provided, Melony -- although the page referred to by the second link appears to have been moved. I couldn't find any mention of what measurements they used. But not to worry - I'm happy to concede this particular point (although privately I still remain sceptical!)

But does anyone else have further ideas on what constitutes "deep reading"? Surely there's little point even talking about "deep reading" unless we have some idea what it means!
Caro

I have a sneaking suspicion that my idea of reading deeply is thinking "How would Himadri approach this book and how can I emulate him, at least to some degree?"  And then I think, "This Dickens is very good and I enjoy his writing very much, but I am not sure I am getting the depth of thought that has gone into this or what exactly his aims are."  At the moment I am thinking specifically of David Copperfield, which is a beautifully rendered view of childhood and portrays how a child sees a blinkered view of the world, while at the same ensuring the reader sees an unblinkered vision.  But I am not sure just exactly what Dickens' aims were beyond this for this book.  I think I could see it more for Bleak House.

In a book that is worthwhile bothering to go into depth with, I would try and consider the themes and how the characters fit into those themes, what the author wants to convey in the way of a vision of life, how the style, the words, etc fit that (and possibly why one writer should use a different style to portray the same themes and aims that another one might do quite differently).  I rarely re-read a whole book, but will spend more time reading a deeper book more thoroughly the first time, taking time over particular passages, ensuring I have understood the meaning behind the words.

But it is a long time since I have read a book like, say, Ulysses, where the story is quite secondary to other elements of the book.  Most books I read now, whether light or literary, still have a story to pull me along.  I started to read Mrs Dalloway recently and just gave up as I didn't seem to feel like putting in the necessary effort even for a short book like that.  And some books don't even attract me to start them - nothing anyone has ever written about Moby Dick for instance gives me the slightest inclination to try it.  

I am not actually all that good at concentrating and suspect (remembering that I used to get bored in exams and would stop thinking and writing for about half an hour) that I never was.  You need to be prepared to concentrate to get the most out of more difficult books.  So maybe I will never be a truly deep reader.  

Cheers, Caro.
Caro

PS In some ways it is not the highly thoughtful books or the light books I have difficult with, in the way of deep reading.  It's those books that come somewhere in between - books which may not have a vision as such but which do have thought and ideas and are well written and need some attention from the reader.  The crime novels of Minette Walters, for instance, or the social books of Elizabeth Buchan.  Books like The Kite Runner or Half of a Yellow Sun or The Remains of the Day, which perhaps don't have high 'aims' but which insist on emotional engagement, preparedness to learn, thoughtfulness, attention to their language, and attachment to their characters.

Cheers, Caro.
Melony

Hmmm, this is a lot to take in so early in the morning on the Fourth of July.  (Our economy must really be bad - there are no children out in the streets shooting off fireworks like usual.)

Himdari, here is another link to the test.  You are very kind to skeptically conceed!
http://ustimss.msu.edu/

As for reading deeply, here is a quote by Harold Bloom, one of our noted professors and thinkers:
“We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are.”
TheRejectAmidHair

Melony wrote:
Himdari, here is another link to the test.  You are very kind to skeptically conceed!
http://ustimss.msu.edu/


Oh - not particularly kind at all! - it's just that I can't really get too excited over whether US or UK scores more highly on an issue where scores can never be objectively measured in the first place!

I had a quick look at this new link, but once again, I could find no reference to how "achievement in reading for literary purposes" is measured. Without objective measurement, statistical analysis is meaningless. But let's not labour the point.

But thanks for the Harold Bloom quote. And thanks, Caro, for your thoughts.

The problem, as so often is with definition. When we speak of a book having "depth", or when we speak of a reading having "depth", we are using a metaphor: we are not, after all, talking about physical depth. And we are forced into using a metaphor because there is no direct way of saying these things. The metaphor of depth implies that there lies much beyond the surface, but just what does lie beyond the surface will, of course, be different for each work.

I'm sorry - I shouldn't have started this post: I have to run now, and a mere few minutes is hardly enough time to do justice to a subject such as this. I'll try to return to this later.

And in the meantime - Happy July 4th, Melony! (And to all other Americans out there...)
Melony

Thanks, Himadri, for the Fourth wishes -

Is deep reading the ability to take language and make symbols out of it that equate with experiencing a novel?
Melony

Maybe I didn't ask the "write" question in my last post.  Here is what Faulkner said about reading through writing and I think it comes closer to what I meant when I asked the question.  If not, it is still provocative.  He wrote this as a preview to The Sound and the Fury:

I wrote this book and learned to read. I had learned a little about writing from Soldiers' Pay--how to approach language, words: not with seriousness so much, as an essayist does, but with a kind of alert respect, as you approach dynamite; even with joy, as you approach women: perhaps with the same secretly unscrupulous intentions. But when I finished The Sound and the Fury I discovered that there is actually something to which the shabby term Art not only can, but must, be applied. I discovered then that I had gone through all that I had ever read, from Henry James through Henty to newspaper murders, without making any distinction or digesting any of it, as a moth or a goat might. After The Sound and The Fury and without heeding to open another book and in a series of delayed repercussions like summer thunder, I discovered the Flauberts and Dostoievskys and Conrads whose books I had read ten years ago. With The Sound and the Fury I learned to read and quit reading, since I have read nothing since.
TheRejectAmidHair

Yes - no mistaking Faulkner's prose, is there?

I'd take what Faulkner says here with a slight pinch of salt, though. I find it incredible that someone with the literary intelligence (not to mention that shabby term Genius) to write The Sound and the Fury could be so very undiscerning. No doubt he learnt better how to distinguish after writing The Sound and the Fury, and was exaggerating for rhetorical effect the difference between his current discerning self and his former undiscerning self.

But two points strike me here. One is that the ability to distinguish came in retrospect - that it came, as he puts it, "in a series of delayed repercussions like summer thunder". I find literature of quality can often have this effect - that it often makes its impact felt long after one has finished the book. Appreciating literature is rarely, I find, a thing of the moment: literature rarely provides instant gratification.

The other point is the necessity to distinguish. Faulkner had to distinguish. While Faulkner was, in his own words, "[going] through all that ... without making any distinction or digesting any of it, as a moth or a goat might" he couldn't appreciate literature. He couldn't even recognise that there existed writing "to which the shabby term Art not only can, but must, be applied". It is only when he learned to distinguish that he could see the greatness of "the Flauberts and Dostoievskys and Conrads".

Interestingly, he doesn't say that he necessarily liked "the Flauberts and Dostoievskys and Conrads". Liking is, I feel, a different issue. The first issue is to distinguish, to recognise the writing "to which the shabby term Art not only can, but must, be applied".

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