A New Perspective on Lit Analysis
I’m thinking about analysis this morning–literature analysis, as it happens.
This all started because Susan and I got into a discussion about reading non-fiction this morning, which spun into how I’ve finally been out of school long enough to actually want to read it, and from there to how English class ruined me for analyzing anything I read until fairly recently.
Quite apart from the fact that the traditional cannon of dead white dudes would never in a zillion years be published in modern times and that those alleged great authors committed all kinds of egregious writing sins that WE aren’t allowed to get away with, any hope I had of actually liking the stuff we were forced to read in English class was wholly ruined by the insistence of the teachers on analyzing everything to death. And it wasn’t the kind of analysis that actually looked at the characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts and the driving force behind the plot. No, it was a bunch of asinine bullshit like what did the green light mean? (Hint, it was just an effing green light. It didn’t mean a damned thing! Okay yeah, I’m still bitter about The Great Gatsby) I was the student who read the book as assigned and then went back to buy the Cliff’s notes to find out what the hell I was supposed to see that wasn’t really there.
Coming off the heels of this kind of crap, my inclination to analyze anything I read was exactly nil.
But over the last several years, as I’ve gotten serious about this whole writing as career thing, I’ve gradually started doing it. Not trying to figure out what the blue curtains mean but looking at the building blocks of good fiction. If a book is good, I now have to figure out why. Why did it engage me? Why was I entertained? What kept me from putting it down or throwing it at the wall?
This is part and parcel of being a good writer. It’s not just about reading craft books, it’s about reading fiction and SEEING those aspects of craft done–well or badly–we can learn from both. It takes work and self-training to read analytically. To really be present in what you’re reading so you can actually identify “oh I see what she did there…that’s awesome,” is hard to do. I usually don’t manage it the first time through. If a book is good enough that I was pulled out of my natural copy editor mode just to read the story, THEN I’ll go back and reread it, knowing what happened, what was being built toward and seeing how they did it. I’m trying to be more conscious of doing this and applying what I learn to my own work.
What about you? Do you analyze the stuff you read?