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Thread: How to read

  1. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by virginiawang View Post
    I do noy understand in what sense you considered sparknotes as being something similar to garbage. When I had to read plays written by Shakespeare in college, I did find cliffnotes being helpful. Even now, I will go to their website and read some essays or plot analyses once in a while. I don't think it is so terrible. It is written in plain English, and perhaps in a more oral style. It makes certain ideas clear at once.
    By the way, what are some of the references you referred to as decent texts ?
    It depends. If they are of use to you or to whoever then fine, you grab whatever works for you and you don't listen to people like me. But I think that these sorts of guides have limited appeal because they don't go far enough even as basic guides or even to supplement what you yourself can get just from a reading of a text. This is in fact where they come in handy, they provide basic summaries so lazy students don't need to bother to read the text (or so they think) I think this is where they actually make most appeal, it is their niche appeal - and thus probably the result of my anger towards them. In short I think they are a bit of a rip off and are unlikely to give the dedicated student much support for their money. If however, like I said someone finds them useful then that's fine.

    Neely: I got this idea from class when others were getting the material the first time they read it. But I guess they are just very bright individuals. I used to consult Sparknotes... I guess I won’t anymore, haha. Where can I find other sources? Are you talking on-line or go-to-the-library type?
    I don't know you sound a clued up and dedicated individual. I'd like to guess that those individuals were quite good at talking the talk. Maybe they were bright individuals who got all of that in one read, (but not everyone can be like JBI) but in my experience I wouldn't put my money on it - besides with your apparent dedication and passion for it you will soon be ahead of those; either way of course it is not a race.

    No, use what you want (like I said above) but don't part with your money too quickly on the likes of sparknotes, because you will very soon outgrow them.

    Where can you find other sources? Certainly the best place to head to is a decent library or you can try online. The problem with going online for the stuff you are going to be looking for is that you won't find much I'm guessing of any substance, without a scholar log-in, which you get as part of a university registration. You can pay for those separately, but to be honest I get most of my critical stuff from the library or I use the lasting books I have at home.

    Good stuff.
    Last edited by LitNetIsGreat; 12-30-2009 at 08:55 PM.

  2. #17
    Registered User Red-Headed's Avatar
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    Don't overlook A Nietzsche Reader selected & translated by R.J. Hollingdale (Penguin Classics).
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  3. #18
    Registered User virginiawang's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    I would tackle such texts in small chunks and follow them up with decent commentary texts for a while - at least compliment your reading with them.
    Please allow me a question. What are some of those decents texts you referred to that you might supplement your reading with? Did you find them in different websites or in books? Do you find them interesting?
    Last edited by virginiawang; 01-01-2010 at 09:50 AM.

  4. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by virginiawang View Post
    Please allow me a question. What are some of those decents texts you referred to that you might supplement your reading with? Did you find them in different websites or in books? Do you find them interesting?
    It completely depends on what I am reading and what I am reading it for. Often I have the advantage of a recommended reading list from my university, but other than that, I head off to the library and dig around, often looking for experts in the field or university press releases or journals, or just anything that seems relevant. I rarely use the internet for sources and then usually just for essays through my uni log-in only, in databases such as JSTOR - and then I only tend to use them in order to supplement my main secondary reading to a max of around 20%. Other than that I have my own small collection but that is quite limited in secondary reading, because often they just doesn't last in relevance. I use The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, amongst other things which are relevant to my main areas of interest, but I don’t see the point of spending hundreds of pounds on secondary sources that I will possibly only use once (in some obscure essay), and besides I have no room for them. Do I find them interesting? Yes mostly, I suppose, I would hardly be in the field if I didn’t.

    Why I dislike the likes of sparknotes, (if that is what you are getting at?) is for the reasons I gave here:

    It depends. If they are of use to you or to whoever then fine, you grab whatever works for you and you don't listen to people like me. But I think that these sorts of guides have limited appeal because they don't go far enough even as basic guides or even to supplement what you yourself can get just from a reading of a text. This is in fact where they come in handy, they provide basic summaries so lazy students don't need to bother to read the text (or so they think) I think this is where they actually make most appeal, it is their niche appeal - and thus probably the result of my anger towards them. In short I think they are a bit of a rip off and are unlikely to give the dedicated student much support for their money. If however, like I said someone finds them useful then that's fine.
    There are better basic guides around if that is what you are looking for. The "A Very Short Introduction" guides seem better value for money and seem a little more lasting for beginners. They are relatively cheap and concise, written by people who seem to have more than an A-level in their relative field, informative and, more importantly, point you ahead with a fairly OK looking bibliography.

    The overall point is that there isn't going to be one magic book that is going to answer all a student's questions and set them on the right track. It is a combined effort of will and dedication over time.

    Does that help?

  5. #20
    Registered User virginiawang's Avatar
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    I've also been in the field for many years, but it seems that I am as ignorant as a beginner as to what fits my purpose of getting references. I usually typed the name of a book or work into the search box in yahoo, and read whatever I could find that caught my attention. I never went to a library, though I was taught how to find books in a library in my freshman year. I think that explains why I was never good at literary criticism. I always wished that I could have come up with a theory myself, but that was nearly impossible. Sometimes it happened.
    What is JSTOR? Is that a website you've got to pay to get material?
    Thank you for your advice.
    Last edited by virginiawang; 01-02-2010 at 04:35 AM.

  6. #21
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Many major public library systems have a scholar-connection to many databases. Of course, I have essentially the biggest possible at my finger tips, so I don't exactly know what the smallest one's look like, so I can't vouch for everywhere.

    Generally, most major institutions, or even large public libraries (at least in Canada) will have some sort of online access - JSTOR from what I hear is relatively common for libraries to have connections to (at least here). It is probably better to check there before paying 15$ for an article or whatever crazy cost they push.

    As for Spark Notes - it isn't that I hate them, it is that anything that is contained within them to me is essentially useless. I believe, personally, and I mean no offense when I say this, that they are written at a level that a general reader assigned the text should be able to pick up on their own, and at a level that sits around a c+ or lower in major universities where proper competitive programs in English exist.

    To get higher, to understand more, or to know "how to read," ultimately, one will need to be at a level high enough to have written the spark notes themselves. Generally, as a rule of thumb, I will not write an essay on a text I have not read, and generally, unless I am really left without time or option (this means an all-night-er is already being accounted for) I will not write a formal essay on a text I have not read at least twice. Quite simply, you cannot write on something you haven't read and expect to understand anything, and you can't understand anything to a reasonable level to give full explanation in words without reading something twice - for poems, perhaps 10s of times.


    Spark notes is useful as a kids tool, but don't use it if you expect your understanding to be that of somebody greater than a kid - a crutch is only good to have if you don't have to always lean on it to walk.


    To read well, the first thing you should do, is read widely, and challenge yourself, even if you don't fully understand - eventually things will unwind if you give them time, and you are direct in the way you read. Reading scholarship on specific texts also seems to help (it helped me a lot, especially when it came to formal writing) but isn't 100% necessary, especially if you are just starting out.

    Good editions of things are also worth the money - sometimes the extra money for a properly edited and annotated copy of a book, with good introduction and selected bibliography at the back is worth it.
    Last edited by JBI; 01-02-2010 at 03:53 AM.

  7. #22
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by virginiawang View Post
    I've also been in the field for many years, but it seems that I am as ignorant as a beginner as to what fits my purpose of getting references. I usually typed the name of a book or work into the search box in yahoo, and read whatever I could find that caught my attention. I never went to a library, though I was taught how to find books in a library in my freshman year. I think that explains why I was never good at literary criticism. I always wished that I could have come up with a theory myself, but that was nearly impossibl. Sometimes it happened.
    What is JSTOR? Is that a website you've got to pay to get material?
    Thank you for your advice.
    Rule of thumb, if it is on Google or yahoo, don't use it. I never, personally, like to footnote anything that wasn't published at one point in print (and usually I will try to dig up the printed version of it if I can) and I would never footnote or even consult anything that wasn't backed by credentials. Simply put, in order to be backed by credentials, most likely the text must be academic, or copyrighted at least, and therefore not on Google.




    To be honest with you, and I mean no offense, but I find it baffling how people don't realize what is out there in terms of scholarship in the field - I mean, as soon as I got to university and started learning things, if anything I got the feeling of finally earning the opportunity to be plugged in - there is so much great stuff made available by connection to the institution. Proper research though aught never to be neglected.

    For instance, it is OK to post questions on public forums such as this, but it is rude, stupid, and illegal to be like somebody on this forum who is sending me private messages begging me to give him my answer to his teacher's essay question, of which he would a) claim authorship, and b) not tell me that he plans to plagiarize word for word (which actually does happen, as I have, to be honest, seen stuff discussed on boards brought up in class, to the point where I am sure people lifted it.

    Generally, if you are consulting with people, do so to reaffirm your own opinion if you are doubting yourself, rather than to lift theirs. It may be tempting to steal, but if I catch you lifting my stuff, I will get you nailed to a cross for plagiarism.

  8. #23
    Registered User sixsmith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Rule of thumb, if it is on Google or yahoo, don't use it. I never, personally, like to footnote anything that wasn't published at one point in print (and usually I will try to dig up the printed version of it if I can) and I would never footnote or even consult anything that wasn't backed by credentials. Simply put, in order to be backed by credentials, most likely the text must be academic, or copyrighted at least, and therefore not on Google.


    To be honest with you, and I mean no offense, but I find it baffling how people don't realize what is out there in terms of scholarship in the field - I mean, as soon as I got to university and started learning things, if anything I got the feeling of finally earning the opportunity to be plugged in - there is so much great stuff made available by connection to the institution. Proper research though aught never to be neglected.

    For instance, it is OK to post questions on public forums such as this, but it is rude, stupid, and illegal to be like somebody on this forum who is sending me private messages begging me to give him my answer to his teacher's essay question, of which he would a) claim authorship, and b) not tell me that he plans to plagiarize word for word (which actually does happen, as I have, to be honest, seen stuff discussed on boards brought up in class, to the point where I am sure people lifted it.

    Generally, if you are consulting with people, do so to reaffirm your own opinion if you are doubting yourself, rather than to lift theirs. It may be tempting to steal, but if I catch you lifting my stuff, I will get you nailed to a cross for plagiarism.
    What I find both disheartening and infuriating is that, in my experience, plagiarism is not infrequent in academic, peer reviewed journals. I can't speak for English lit because I could never muster enough interest to consult anything but the first fusty and likely redundant piece of scholarship that I encountered in the library. But certainly in History and in Law (Law being particularly bad), the scholarship can get pretty darn sloppy. And it's a little grating to have Professors ramming the 'intellectual theft' line down your throat when Joe Bloggs from Harvard hasn't footnoted the sentence which you read 5 minutes ago in another paper. I'm not necessarily talking wholesale replication, but as any student knows, you can get find yourself in serious grief even for unintentional plagiarism.
    Last edited by sixsmith; 01-02-2010 at 05:37 AM.
    'Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.' - Groucho Marx

  9. #24
    Registered User virginiawang's Avatar
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    JBI, perhaps you're right in a sense, but I just cannot help wanting to present some of my views, and questions as well, to oppose your views on this subject under discussion.
    I do not understand what you said about a library being big enough for you, because I don't think anyone can finish reading all the books lying on the shelves of a library, even if it be a library of the smallest scale. Does a library being big say anything about its contents or the quality of them, I wonder? By the way, I believe in what Emerson wrote in the opening paragraph of a small phamphlet, called Nature, that people have no need to grope among the dry bones of the past. He encouraged his readers to envision the world with his own eyes and soul. In my opinion, one has the opportunity to come up with his own theories and interpretations after he reads a literary work, and one theory that comes about in this way, imparted with sincere feelings, is as good as another, if only it is expressed clearly. I don't think an acedemic will have a bigger heart that feels more than a literary student does.
    Feelings are all noble, if they are sincere, so I can't figure out why people rated feelings by ways of different levels like A, B, or C+. Therefore I really don't understand you.
    Did you give some of those their low rating because they did not have many ideas included, or because they had poor wording? What do you mean by to get higher? If my heart refuses to feel anything after I read a text, I don't think it helps much if I try to read more comments written by, say the most prominent experts in the field.
    Before I close the post, I must point out a reality most people would not like to hear. Plagiarism is necessary. I must learn how to use a brush before I can paint. Concerning literary criticism, one must read as least some of those to pick up the vocabularies only. It is just not easy and likely to write in a tone similar to that of some well-written essays, if one never learns from them.
    Last edited by virginiawang; 01-02-2010 at 08:12 AM.

  10. #25
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by virginiawang View Post
    I do noy understand in what sense you considered sparknotes as being something similar to garbage. When I had to read plays written by Shakespeare in college, I did find cliffnotes being helpful. Even now, I will go to their website and read some essays or plot analyses once in a while. I don't think it is so terrible. It is written in plain English, and perhaps in a more oral style. It makes certain ideas clear at once.
    By the way, what are some of the references you referred to as decent texts ?
    There's lots of Shakespeare criticism- AC Bradley's book on Shakespearean Tragedy is qite simple to read.
    I use Spark Notes only to back up the ideas I've already formed.

  11. #26
    Plagarism is necessary. I must learn how to use a brush before I can paint. Concerning literary criticism, one must read as least some of those to pick up the vocabularies only. It is just not easy and likely to write in a tone similar to those well-written essays, if one never learns from them.
    You are not talking about plagiarism here, but simply reading. There is a point when your reading becomes 'knowledge' to the point that you couldn't say where you have got something from, but this is perfectly natural, and a completely different thing from consciously stealing someone else's words without giving them credit. This is plagiarism, the conscious stealing of someone else's work. A student who intentionally plagiarises is the lowest form of individual in academia.

    As for your earlier question JBI covered what you need to know, though I would add that from my point of view it is not worth paying for database access because, as I say I only ever seem to use them in a minor role.

    JBI, what databases do you use? Is it a collection specific to Canada or your university?

  12. #27
    Bat Country Hank Stamper's Avatar
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    If you haven't got access to a good library then buying the norton critical editions are always a good place to start for secondary reading.. they all have comprehensive notes, historical contexts and various thematic essays etc
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro

  13. #28
    Haribol Acharya blazeofglory's Avatar
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    This is really a very wonderful topic and this reflects the many experiences I myself have gone through in life. I came from a different background than most writing for this forum. I came from a nonnative English background and the village I came from had no speakers of English at all. Initially I learned English with no intention of writing in it; I learned it since I have no access to translated works of world class writers like Tolstoy, Thoreau, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Victor Hugo, Emerson and the like. I read some of the world classics understanding of course very little of what I read in point of fact. But my passion for English could not be deterred no matter what difficulties faced me initially.

    I read them not innately but with a keen interest in new language. After of course a decade and half I can comprehend Dickens, Hemingway, Henri James. But I want to be honest that I cannot understand Joyce. I made several endeavors to read his Ulysses I failed to understand it. That said it does not mean I cannot understand his other works.

    I can understand Shakespeare, even Dante, Milton, but reading some of Nietzsche's works is hard for me.

    Reading to me is a mechanic endeavor and through repetitions we are more likely to comprehend incomprehensible texts. Now I do read and write in two languages at the same time. I write poems and some writings of complex thoughts in Nepali and meantime I do write essays in English with the intention to go across larger audiences.

    Of course now I feel at home with some of the best works in English and take pride in the fact that not only can I comprehend complex books but can communicate complex thoughts across people throughout the world.

    What I gleaned from my experiences with books is books come to our understanding if we keep on read them unstoppably and I hope in a few years my level of the English language will grow double.

    I suggest the only one path to enhancing your efficiency in reading is reading.

    “Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature””

    “If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.

  14. #29
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    You are not talking about plagiarism here, but simply reading. There is a point when your reading becomes 'knowledge' to the point that you couldn't say where you have got something from, but this is perfectly natural, and a completely different thing from consciously stealing someone else's words without giving them credit. This is plagiarism, the conscious stealing of someone else's work. A student who intentionally plagiarises is the lowest form of individual in academia.

    As for your earlier question JBI covered what you need to know, though I would add that from my point of view it is not worth paying for database access because, as I say I only ever seem to use them in a minor role.

    JBI, what databases do you use? Is it a collection specific to Canada or your university?

    The University of Toronto has essentially linking to virtually all electronic resources available - Robarts is the third largest library in North America, but the electronic resources of the library are linked with a sharing agreement to the top universities in the US, Harvard, Yale, etc, to create a super database. The only hard things to find really are periodicals in very removed instances - so for instance, if I wanted specific research on China from a Chinese perspective written in Chinese, I probably would need to go to China, or if I wanted to do archival or manuscript work, I would need to go there - everything else is on line. Essentially every journal in every discipline, in most languages. Texts are harder to get - many, of them can be retrieved, but the vast bulk are on shelves, so I physically need to go to the library, which has essentially everything useful, and dig it up. The only trouble is on specific collections that one normally wouldn't frequent, but I doubt that would ever come up outside of very specialized scholarship, and certainly not at the undergraduate level.


    In addition to that, Toronto also has the second largest public library system in the world, which has links to major databases (nothing like the university, but they have a few interesting ones, if you can get passed the tedious design of the library website). That's where I go for most of my casual reading, as the lone policy is quite slack, though the vast bulk of scholarly stuff is reference only, and better accessed online.

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    To add to the good advice above: Also consider the condition your brain needs to be in for difficult reading. For me that means reading first thing in the morning. Even a 30 minute walk seems to reduce my peak ability.
    So find out when your brain is at its sharpest and do your toughest mental work then.

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