There are few things I enjoy more than a good book. Teaching literature to my highschooler and her co-op has given me a chance to revisit some classics and to crack open a few that I found too intimidating when I was younger. The chance to analyze them on a deeper level has brought the lessons they teach to a relatable level. I am enjoying the same sorts of analysis with my middle grades students using some lighter books, but still very worthy reads. I invite you to join me in reading some of the books that should be read. These are books that have shaped Western civilization.
I looked for a tool that my students could use on every book, a sort of literature checklist to utilize while reading a book and for analyzing and discussion after reading the book. I created a short “study guide” that lists a number of questions to ask yourself as you read or for discussion. There are lots of questions that can be asked about specific books, but these questions can be asked of any book. I credit The Eternal Argument by Robin Finley with the succinctness of this method. Mrs. Finley proposes that all literature is trying to answer the question: Who is in charge? Is it a creator God? Are humans the highest thing there is out there? Are we answerable to a higher authority? You can download a free copy of my Colloquium Literature Study Guide here.
Questions like “who is the protagonist (hero)” might be easy, but the antagonist (who is the hero against) is sometimes quite a bit of food for thought. My guide lists several types of potential conflicts to think through. A rich book will often have several different conflicts. Sometimes the hero is fighting himself, other times society. Sometimes the enemy is easily identified, sometimes it is a supernatural force and occasionally it is just nature. See if you can distill the author’s main point into one sentence. That exercise will make you see a book in a whole, new light. Where are the classical triumvirate virtues of truth, beauty and goodness within the novel?
The movements suggested in the study guide represent a few literary movements that coincide with philosophical, art, and musical movements. You will probably recognize most of them. Further explanations can be found in Mrs. Finley’s very practical, easy-to-read book. We will discuss them as we move through the books.
There are, of course, books that are too instructional or non-fiction in nature to analyze this way. But give it a shot anyway. I was surprised, in our study of the Federalist Papers, how many of these questions we really could answer from our readings. Try the study guide with whatever you are currently reading and see if it helps you understand and interact with the material in a deeper way.
Are you ready to read with me?