Having to read a novel that you hate for school is practically a rite-of-passage. As unbearable as it is, there is no escaping it. Whether a plotless depiction of a “tortured artist” or a “classic” ridden with superfluous writing, trying to pay attention while reading a bland book is hard. But don’t let it hinder your success: Here are some strategies on how to plow through a boring story and still get a good grade.
Adopt the Right Mindset
Think of it as a job. After all, you’re doing academic work, not reading for pleasure. Although it may be easy to confuse the two when reading material you like, it’s not recommended. We’re often told to read something for school because it is a “benchmark of storytelling” from which we can learn. Obviously that’s not always the case. But who said that you can only learn from reading good books? Reading the dreaded book in question is a great opportunity to learn what you might not want to do when crafting your own works. Analyze and examine any questionable artistic decisions made by the author that resulted in the final product. Think of it as performing an autopsy on a failed piece of art instead a corpse. Trust me; it’ll make reading more bearable.
Sometimes, things grow on you. Try reading at least half of the novel to see if it gets any better. While doing so, jot down page numbers for any relevant passages you come across. That way, in case you do give up on finishing it, you’ll still have cited passages of your own to fall back on. Ideally, the second act of any good story should be filled with exciting tension and conflict: if the middle of the book lacks that criterion, read it in a different manner than you would for leisure. This leads us to another method…
By researching your book, you can get a solid understanding of the its plot and themes that you may not have grasped when trying to slug through it. This approach does take a substantial amount of effort, but it will help your grades. Use websites like Enotes, Sparknotes, and Cliffsnotes to get a good overview of the book’s plot and themes. As helpful as these sources are, they often lack specific passages from books, which are usually required in any novel-based assignment. Take note of every passage mentioned in lecture and the professor’s explanation of its significance. You will have to formulate your own examples on top of this. Search through excerpts of the book to find relevant passages on your own. Use the summaries online and the page numbers from class as cues to where you should narrow your search down. A riskier approach is to aimlessly surf through the book to find any passage you think is significant. Upon finding one, examine it in context to the themes discussed by your professor. After finding enough passages, mix them up with ones already mentioned in class when writing an essay or on an exam.
Congratulations – you’ve read the book from start to finish, but you hated every page of it. Feel free to critique it in tutorial. While doing a scathing analysis on an essay or an exam isn’t recommended, doing so in tutorial can garner participation marks. Just make sure you give an intelligent and structured argument with evidence. Bitterly complaining that Jane Eyre “sucks” isn’t going to win over your TA.
For your argument, cite any plot holes, inconsistencies, pacing problems, and weak dialogue as evidence. However, only state your criticisms if they are relevant to the class discussion; otherwise, it’s not worth derailing the tutorial.
All that said, proceed with caution if the novel you’re assigned is a “classic”. Any classical literature is inevitably going to be dated by today’s standards in terms of both form and content. Be wary of criticising it for what it isn’t rather than for what it is. Complaining that the prose in Paradise Lost isn’t in modern English will just make it sound like you walked into the wrong classroom. Although you may not like Homer, Virgil, Dante, or Milton, there is a reason why their works are still read and discussed hundreds of years after they were written. If you are brazen enough and determined to critique it, make sure to only do so in comparison to other works from the same era.
A Note of Caution
Ideally, you should read something for school regardless of its quality or how much it bores you. It is not recommended that you rely strictly on Internet research to complete these assignments. As painful as it may be for you to read Jane Austen, getting a bad final grade hurts even more. Power through it and just keep that final grade in mind every time you want to give up. We’ve all been through it – you can do it too!