On Reading for School (a rambly story!)

I’m an English student in university, so it’s no surprise that I have to do a lot of reading for my assignments. But there is nothing I don’t like more than being told that I will need to read a novel (sometimes two) for a single module.


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Obviously, I love reading. This blog wouldn’t exist if I didn’t. But, to me, there is a huge difference between reading for leisure and reading because I have to study it. I don’t mind reading short stories to study, because short stories are exactly what they are: short. But whole novels? No thank you. I’d rather use SparkNotes. Now, I have a whole rambling story to explain my reasons, and I have some help from Superman to illustrate it.

My whole deal with studying novels actually started in my last year of secondary school, and a (in my opinion) terrible decision that was made. For my GCSE English exam, my teacher originally wanted our class to study To Kill a Mockingbird (which is now one of my favourite books), instead of what everyone else was reading, which was Of Mice and Men. Naturally, this is a class of 15/16 year olds in an area of the country that is only really concerned with sports, so we got the usual reaction of “I can’t read”. We got one chapter into To Kill a Mockingbird before the class decided that it was “too hard” (it’s really not. this book was written in plain English in the 60s), and we took a vote. Over half of the class wanted to continue with To Kill a Mockingbird. We ended up studying Of Mice and Men anyway.
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Now, before it sounds like I don’t like Of Mice and Men because I had to study it for GCSE when there was a much better book to do, let me tell you something about the English department in my school. We studied Of Mice and Men every single year because there was about thirty-five copies in every classroom and the teacher’s probably couldn’t think of something to do towards the end of the year (okay, that may just be me being bitter). There was one class in the whole year group that studied a different book and that’s because that class was top set and the head of the department was their teacher (and she was my favourite teacher ever, she was an amazing teacher), so they studied Hard Times.

Cut forward one year to my first year of college, and there was two novels that I had to study: The Kite Runner and The Great Gatsby. Now, I thought that The Kite Runner is an okay book. I didn’t mind studying it, and it wasn’t a nightmare to read. The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, is my ultimate book disappointment story. I was so looking forward to reading that book, and once I had, I hated it. You will never, ever get me to like The Great Gatsby. Ever. Studying that book was such a nightmare because my reaction to the whole thing was:

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Second year of college wasn’t too bad because I’d already read one of the novels we were supposed to study (key words here being supposed to), which was Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of my favourite books of all time. We spent two weeks studying that book that we were supposed to write an essay on. What a waste of time. The other novel we studied was Frankenstein, which I actually enjoyed so studying that was actually fun (we also had a different teacher, because the one we had at the beginning of the year was pregnant). But now we get into my first year of university (that I’ve just finished), where I have found a book that I hate more than anything else in this world.

The book I am talking about is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Boy, oh boy, do I hate this book. I didn’t even finish it and ended up using SparkNotes to study it. I have now made an enemy for life with James Joyce, and so has every single one of my friends that I’ve made at uni. If I have to read Ulysses, I’ll probably cry. I also read The Sound and the Fury, which I did finish (it’s the only novel that I’ve had to read for uni and actually finished) but it still sucked to study.

I definitely prefer reading short stories, because if it weren’t for studying short stories, I wouldn’t have developed an interest in Ernest Hemingway or Philip K. Dick. But, I’ve got to study novels too, so I’ll just have to put up with it. Oh well.

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I don’t know what it is, but for some reason studying novels just kind of sucks the fun out of reading. I spend too much time looking for all the different literary techniques rather than actually reading and depending on how challenging the book is, I can sometimes get lost. I don’t hate studying literature by any means necessary (poetry, on the other hand, can just fuck right off. no way in hell am I ever going to like poetry) because if I did I wouldn’t be studying for an English degree. I’m just a very fickle girl who is more likely to enjoy studying a book if I actually enjoyed it. Hence my bitterness about not being able to study Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Sometimes I don’t like to admit it, but I can totally understand why there are kids who just don’t like reading. And it’s because we have to study books at school whether we like reading or not. But, as long as English is a core subject in curriculums around the world, kids are going to have to study books and deal with it. Because I have to and I’m going to hold my tongue about it now that I’ve gotten this off my chest.

How about you guys? Did you like any of the books you had to study at school? Did you like studying books?


  1. 16/07/2014 / 9:55 AM

    Well, since we have at least 3 languages at our school, I had to study books in 3 different languages (I skipped the 4th one, because I really disliked the teachers)

    I liked studying the English books the most. We had this special literature book with all types of periods and how you could see why that book came from, let's say, the Romanticism (1798–1837). And there were also a lot of poems and I love those 🙂 with explanations and the deeper meaning. Good times! I had to read books like Animal farm (hated it) and Lord of the flies (hated that one too) and we had a long time where we studied Shakespeare (LOVED IT, I was the only one :')) We had tests about the books and sometimes essays. I nailed it, haha.

    Then there were the books for German. Das Perfum wasn't bad, but I remember highly disliking some of the other books we had to do.

    Then my own language, Dutch, and most of those books sucked. I don't know why, but it seems like they pick the most boring and hateful books they can come up with.. Exams where the best, because we could choose our own 5 books we had to talk about. I'm not going to write down titles, because most of them aren't translated and they won't mean anything to you I believe :p

  2. 20/07/2014 / 9:23 AM

    Oh my, I'm actually such a nerd that I loved the books we studied in school. All the books I read for English, Afrikaans and History essentially became some of my favourites. Those included Othello, Macbeth, Anne Frank, Good Nigh Mr Tom, To Kill a Mockingbird, An Episode of Sparrows, Lord of the Flies and a whole load of other local titles.
    Some of them I didn't enjoy straight off the bat though. What helped in my case was that we had some really epic language teachers who made studying setwork so amazing. Aaaah I would go back any day. I often wish that I could discuss certain books with my old teachers!

  3. 20/07/2014 / 11:18 AM

    I actually quit uni over the whole reading books for courses thing. >.> I started studying English and German five years ago and I just hated my literature classes so much. I don't know what it is about book for school/uni, because I LOVE reading. But the second I have to analyse what I am reading, to make compelling arguments that support my interpretations, I'm at a loss. I can't analyse and interpret on command and that's what it boils down to with academic reading. There's no joy in it and I was genuinely unhappy enough to quit uni over it (there were other factors, too, of course, but hating all my courses was not something I wanted to live through any longer than I already had).

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