Wednesday, 1 May 2013
How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton
How to Read Literature started with an extremely long section on fine-detail analysis at the individual word and sentence level. The illustrative examples were well chosen and the writing good, but this style of analysis doesn't appeal to me as it feels so over the top and analysis-for-the-sake-of-analysis. Eagleton argues that it doesn't matter if an interpretation is 'fanciful' or not what the author intended as long as you can support it and this doesn't feel right to me. Reading for me will never be about analysing individual word choices, even when I am seeking to read critically and objectively.
When Eagleton moved onto more broad themes of character analysis and literary style, I appreciated the book a lot more. In particular, there was a section on interpreting the Harry Potter series that was great fun to read. As in all texts of this kind, there was an emphasis on explaining themes and styles through examples. Although I hadn't read all of the books Eagleton referred to, that didn't matter as the examples were fully explained and could stand alone. I learned lots about styles such as modernism and realism, and this helped me to understand some classics I have already read a little better.
However, even when I was enjoying How to Read Literature, the cool, detached tone effected me. Eagleton takes a purely objective view and this can read as quite harsh e.g. constantly reinforcing that characters are just pen and ink, literary worlds unreal ("Literary figures do not have futures, any more than incarcerated serial killers do."). I don't believe you can or should fully take out the imagining part of reading, the illusion that you are stepping into a full, complete world, the connection you feel with certain characters. Jane Eyre feels real when you read about her, and my imagination is utterly peopled with characters from my favourite novels. Eagleton's approach may be more logical, but I could never read like that, and it stopped me from fully enjoying How to Read Literature.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2013
Score: 2.5 out of 5