The beauty about savouring Literature is that it gives one an opportunity to voice out one’s opinion backed by logic/evidence from text. What is further extraordinary about this subject is that it is subjective.
However, it is unfortunate that Literature is not considered a core subject. On the contrary, the savouring of Literature enhances one’s skill/ability in understanding human relations and also allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of the authors and explore in an in-depth manner, their thought mechanism behind the plot from the characters’ point of view. To use ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ as an example, if you have read it, then you will know what I am talking about.
Literature also assists in the development of the subtleties of the English language, which, in turn, leads to improved and sophisticated communication skills verbally and in the written form. This is true especially in honing up one’s ability in doing well in Paper 1 and in answering inferential questions in Paper 2 in the English Language paper.
All too many pupils brush aside the subject because their main grouse is that it is too boring. However, have they actually persevered in reading the book before passing judgement?? What about delving into the background of the author, in order to find out what was it that motivated him to write the novel in the first place. Or researching into the historical, social, political, geographical or cultural context of the text? How many pupils go that far? Not many, I reckon.
By and large, pupils tend to rely on the teachers for notes, guide books or online resources to ‘feed’ their imagination. When I was teaching, I tend to give the pupils Lit ‘homework’ to prepare for the text to be taught the following year. That ‘homework’ entailed doing background research on the author and the text, finding out meanings of some literary terms, reading and annotating the text and keeping a reading log as well.
So how can one savour the text? Read on:
- Find out the author’s background
- Is there any personal motivation behind the author’s book? ‘Animal Farm’ is an excellent example (I am using a Sec 2 text as an example). George Orwell’s novel is mostly derived from his personal grievances and
experiences about Russia’s political system and inequality.
- Find out the background of the book
- Again, through your research, you will discover that ‘Animal Farm’ is an analogy of the communist system gone wrong in Russia (from Orwell’s point of view). Hence, the need to understand some terms like communism, socialism, capitalism as well as a brief history of Russia, like how communism came about and the Russian Revolution.
- Literary terms
- Some definitions of useful terms to take note of are plot, characteristics, themes (the first three are the most basic, which should be sufficient for now), followed by simile, metaphor, irony, symbolism, foreshadowing, point of view ie, is it written from the 1st or 3rd person, to name a few.
- It is also good to have a list of adjectives (relating to feelings) at hand.
- Once you get the hang of Pt 3, then, as one is savouring the text, it is helpful to annotate (note down) one’s thoughts. For instance, a pupil can indicate “why” (if he is not satisfied with say, a character’s actions) and “characteristics of the characters” (what kind of person is he/she) “feelings about the character/ what the character is feeling/experiencing” etc… as he is reading and ‘discovering’ the text.
- Page references also help, for instance, if the main character’s personality is further elaborated later in the book, one can pen “refer to page xxx also” in the earlier chapter.
- This is also where indication of your personal response is very important. Let your imagination flow. Put yourselves in the character’s shoes. Again, taking the above-mentioned text as an example, you may write “I feel enraged/appalled (if that is what you feel) that farmer Jones has treated the animals so badly” after reading the first few chapters.
- As you read the text, how do you feel about the character or incident that has just taken place? Or what feelings does this writing create in you? Do you like a particular word/phrase that was used? Why?
There is a reading log to upkeep too. But this will suffice for now. I always tell my pupils to treat their Lit text as their Holy book. They should bring it with them everywhere, read it whenever they can, over and over again, in the bus, while waiting in the queue etc.. because there will always be new insights that the pupils will discover with each reading.
Some food for thought … How to know if one is a true blue Lit student?? My personal take – just check his text, it should be dog-eared and full of annotations. Incidentally, I have always believed that Literature is subject to be savoured, not studied. Because just like food, you have to approach it with an open mind, without any judgement, relish it a few or many times, in order to learn to appreciate it. To quote Francis Bacon, “…books are to be tasted …chewed and digested.”
Here is a list of ‘Feeling Words’ to help you start off.
BTW, if if you do not know your Lit text for next yr, may I suggest that you use the book that you are currently reading for leisure to practice the tips as suggested above ….
I have categorized them under: