So, how did I get through a book I really didn’t want to read, and understand the material? (After reading, I could even admit that while I didn’t enjoy reading A Tale of Two Cities, the plot was beautifully crafted.) Here are some tips to help you through your next school-assigned reading.
1. Find a synopsis online.
And no, I don’t mean read a summary of the novel the night before your test. Rather, find a spoiler-free synopsis of the plot and characters online and educate yourself on what the book is about. If the book is older, and understand that the writing is a product of its time, and try to view it through that lense. While Shakespeare's plays may seem convoluted, they're actually full of crude humor. The first line of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a joke about societal expectations. If you do a little research before reading, your enjoyment could increase tenfold.
2. Get through the first chapter.
Often times, the first chapter of a book is a set up for something that will happen later. Therefore, it seems boring and irrelevant. You just have to push through and try to absorb the information for later.
3. Don’t take long breaks.
Force yourself to read a little bit every day. It might be tedious while you do it, but taking too long of a break may lead to forgetting the plot. In that case, you’ll have to work to remember what happened, and then the process of reading will just take longer.
4. After you read a confusing chapter, (and only after!) read a summary of it online to make sure you followed.
We all know the websites: Shmoop, Sparknotes, and LitCharts, to name a few. These analyses are meant to supplement what you’re reading, not replace the novel itself. They provide a simplified break-down of what happened in the chapter, as well as some analysis. Understanding how the writing relates to the author’s life, what the metaphors mean, and how symbolism plays into the story makes for a more vibrant reading experience.
5. Try and guess what’s going to happen next.
This sounds cheesy, but hypothesizing the future will keep you involved in the plot, and help you follow the different events. You might even feel a strange sense of accomplishment if you figure something out before the reader is supposed to know.
6. AFTER you finish the book, read a summary to make sure you understand what you just read.
For example, after I finished reading Tale of Two Cities
, I found this video
, which give me a fuller understanding of the book’s complex plot. Reviewing a full plot summary ensures you understood the basics; this by itself is not enough to understand all the nuances of a novel, however. Always try your best to read the book.
7. You can always listen to the audiobook!
Listening to an audiobook allows you to hear a story without staring at pages all day. However, you need to pay attention to the speaker constantly or risk missing something, so this is not necessarily any easier. Audiobooks also take away your ability to annotate and reread.
Bonus tip: DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE INSTEAD.
You will just get misinformed, especially if you use the movie to replace the book. Often times, a movie will have a changed ending or key point due to the translation from text to screen. Watching the modernized version of Romeo and Juliet featuring Leonardo DiCaprio will not replace the real thing when you’re trying to write an essay about the Shakespeare classic.