As an English student, the very nature of “required reading” has never sat quite right with me. It detracts from the enjoyment I associate with my favourite pastime, often making it feel like yet another chore added to my never ending to-do list. However, I have discovered a number of different methods that have allowed me to make the most of my required reading, methods that I found particularly helpful throughout my first year where, unfortunately, I was not able to choose any of the texts that I studied.
Make sure to leave enough time to complete the required reading before each contact hour, setting yourself a certain number of pages to read across each day in order to manage your time. The stress of having to rush through a 300 page novel the day before will only make you resent the text (and yourself). Also, make sure to highlight your texts as you go along.
It may seem impossible to annotate your texts to the same level of detail as you have done so at A-Level, and that’s because it is. However, just keeping a highlighter and a set of page markers in hand will allow you to easily flick back to that key scene or significant quotation if you ever do decide to write on that specific text in the future.
I have found that engaging with your seminar tutors can sometimes transform your perception of a novel
I found that the most efficient way to approach reading particularly dense or confusing texts (see those written in Middle English) was to read a short summary of the text online first. This helps to prevent any confusion along the way in regards to plot or character development. It proved to be particularly important when it comes to translation: if you don’t know the plot, it can be a struggle to place a passage within its context. Just make sure that your summaries come from reputable sources.
I have found that engaging with your seminar tutors can sometimes transform your perception of a novel. After struggling to engage with my Modern World Literature module, I utilised my tutor’s office hours and discussed in greater depth the concepts I found challenging.
An informal chat with an academic who has a deep interest in what they are teaching can have a considerable impact on your appreciation for a text or time period. This particular tutor turned my perception of modern literature on its head and greatly influenced my second-year module choices.
Don’t expect to love everything or be disheartened when you don’t
If you are still finding it difficult to garner interest, perhaps attempt to utilise the historical context surrounding your required reading. For example, Greek theatre may hold little interest to you in comparison to modern American drama. However, examine how the latter influenced Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. If nothing else, you will have made note of the historical influences of the literature you are studying, something which may potentially come in handy when writing an essay later in the year. This is perhaps acknowledged best by the poet Oscar Wilde, who claimed that “You can never be (…) overeducated”.
Now, this next tip may sound a little unorthodox but I stand by it. Only read the supplementary reading where necessary to aid you in your exams or when you find the reading to be of personal interest. There is no point ploughing through the entire list given to you by your department as at the end of the day, they are suggestions: you are expected to choose a handful to peruse, not devour the entire list. Some texts you will only study for a week or so as you narrow down what you wish to write on for coursework or in your exam.
Forcing yourself to get through the supplementary reading for texts you haven’t enjoyed and thus do not intend on writing on could lead to a better understanding, or it might just make you hate it more. Don’t expect to love everything or be disheartened when you don’t. The person who claims to love every aspect of their course is a liar. To those people I say don’t worry, no-one will think any less of you if you admit that you didn’t enjoy one text out of the 40 you studied that year.