This month’s question from The Blue Bookcase’s Literary Blog Hop:
To what extent do you analyse literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you’re going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience?
I think taking an analytical approach to literature does come naturally to me. My academic background is not actually in English Literature but History, itself a very analytical subject; and, in my degree (and in my English Language A Level before it), I spent a fair amount of time engaging with literature (my dissertation was about 19th century children’s fantasy literature as a source for the history of childhood; my A Level coursework project was a comparative study of the humour in books by Pratchett, Rankin, and Holt). So, although I don’t have all the technical vocabulary and frameworks that a literature scholar would, I am still interested in how books work and what they do.
It was shortly after I finished university that I began reviewing books, something I have continued to do ever since; I’ve also written elsewhere about how central The Encyclopedia of Fantasy has been to my reading life. Analytical approaches to books were always there as I developed into a more serious reader.
Does that mean I’m always analytical now? It depends. If I’m reviewing a book for somewhere other than my blog, that venue will influence my approach; so, for example, I’m reading a book for Strange Horizons at the moment, and taking more detailed notes that I generally would, because they prefer longer reviews as standard, and I need to make sure I have enough material to draw on.
If I’m reading for my own blog, my response to the book tends to guide how analytically I read – the more engaged I am, the more analytical I tend to be. This doesn’t necessarily reflect on a book’s quality: there are some works which I’ve really enjoyed, yet found that I didn’t want to say much about them in detail (I started writing ‘book notes’ posts this year so I could respond to books in 250-or-so words, if that was all it took for what I wanted to say). Analysis doesn’t detract from my reading experience; quite the opposite – if I’m reading analytically, I take it as a sign that the book is worth my time.