Reading for pleasure vs. Reading at school

Hello! I have just spent a fantastic week’s work experience at Hot Key Books and have been given the opportunity to write a blog. I hope you all enjoy. Alex Leonards.

The first time I read Wuthering Heights I wasn’t hugely keen.  I didn’t hate it, I just wasn’t entirely captivated. I blame this on the fact that I didn’t really understand it, had no patience for its slow pace and definitely wasn’t used to its archaic style (at the time I was into contemporary fantasy books). I was stumped when it came to the hoard of surnames, puzzled by Joesph’s obscure dialogue and felt constantly lost in the language.

Surprisingly, it was only while studying the novel at A Level that I began to understand and enjoy Wuthering Heights. I was still baffled by Joseph’s strange northern dialect, but isn’t everyone? Unfortunately, after six months of analysing, highlighting and discussing the book, my admiration for the ‘wild’ and ‘savage’ Cathy and her fellow characters was transformed into hatred. I loathed reading chapters over and over again; trawling relentlessly through 300 pages to find key quotes, learning those key quotes, and, by April 2009, dreaming of key quotes. By the time the exam had approached, my classmates and I knew more about Heathcliff than Brontë herself, and could recite at least a hundred quotes. To top it off, the painful weeks of study and revision was only for a measly hour long paper. And, of course, a week after the exam I couldn’t remember half of the quotes I was forced to learn. Pointless.

This summer, three years later, I’ve decided to read the classic again. This time with no analysis, or ‘key quotes’ – although I do glance at my messy notes in the margin from time to time! When I first opened my copy of Wuthering Heights again, labelled ‘12T, English A Level’, I almost slammed it shut straight away. I feared my past judgement of the book would creep back as soon as I read the first line. I was convinced the book was ruined for me indefinitely. But, I persevered. And from my current place on page fifty, chapter six, I can safely say the book’s genius hasn’t been ruined for me at all. In fact, I’m appreciating it more than I ever did! As I read, I remember the metaphors and themes I once despised. This time round, I appreciate the fact that I know the wild country is a symbol for Heathcliff’s own wildness – it contributes to one of the many layers and mysteries of the novel. I once thought that analysing books in school was a negative, but now I’m not so sure.

What do you think? Does analysis of books in school ruin them? Or enhance them?


2 responses to “Reading for pleasure vs. Reading at school

  1. I always made a point of reading my booklist before we were required to in class in an attempt to estabish an untainted opinion on the texts. I adored 1984 and the short story collection by Janette Turner Hospital that we were required to read. I abhored Catcher in the Rye before we started studying it and hated it even more afterwards. Studying the texts didn’t really change my opinion of them, just enhanced what I already liked/disliked about them.

  2. I have mixed feelings about the books I had to read in school – most of them I couldn’t connect with or get into at all. However one book did stand out and it always makes me happy to think about it – Of Mice and Men.

    I don’t think I’m ready to go back to them yet though!

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