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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
How to Read Literature
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on 11 December 2013
'Dostoevsky is a better novelist than John Grisham in the sense that Tiger Woods is a better golfer than Lady Gaga'. The work is about how one arrives at the value judgements behind that rather nice donnish joke that is one of the delights in this volume. By discussing the use of language, plot and characterisation and finishing with some examples from his extremely wide reading, Eagleton approaches the answer to the title of this book. If the condensed version of the answer is 'carefully and closely', it is because the subject itself is as varied as its constituents, but along the way there is plenty to enlighten and to entertain. The style is easy, the asides are plentiful and amusing, the selections are wide-ranging. It's a treat.
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on 2 May 2013
I teach literature at university and think this would be an excellent book for A level students and anyone about to commence a literature degree. One of the problems with the current curriculum is that there is a widening gap between the way literature is taught in schools, and the critical approaches that are required at degree level.

This book doesn't completely plug that gap but it does problematise some of the assumptions that students (and general readers) bring with them: that the narrative voice is that of the author, that authorial intentionality is the source of meaning, that characters can be thought of and talked about as if they were real people, that what is said is always more important than the way in which it is said, that `good' literature is necessarily the same across history and, essentially, timeless.

This is slightly rambling, but Eagleton uses examples of what he calls `slow reading', otherwise known as `close reading', to deconstruct some of these misunderstandings, and offer more reliable, subtle and productive ways for thinking about how literature works. Given that this is Eagleton, a Marxist scholar of critical theory, this is particularly good on modern and postmodern modes, though he certainly doesn't ignore earlier texts.

Eagleton's enthusiasm comes over well as does his wit - his ideal literary companions on a pub crawl, for example, would be Viola and Becky Sharp, but not Clarissa!

This is a popular book without any jargon or critical terms, so it is complementary to and a few steps down from Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction. It's not a romp through well-loved books or a panegyric on reading but it fills a gap in the market.

Recommended for students of A level English (or other literatures) and as background reading for that crucial summer before starting a literature degree.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 6 April 2015
Nothing in this book, really, is presented as an absolutely authoritative expression of opinion or as a final judgment. The author neither bullies nor patronizes. It may be possible to push around freshman in English Lit survey courses, but at some point the older, more widely experienced reader resists being set straight by experts or, especially, by single minded and inflexible proponents of particular schools, theories or movements.

What I had hoped to find in this book, and what I am very happy to report that I found, was a wide range of thoughtful, good humored, pointed, creative and entertaining observations about reading and appreciating literary works. If you are at all interested in character, plot, syntax, symbolism, narrative structure, and the like, or if you would like some grounding in the various "isms", you will be interested in what Professor Eagleton has to say about these topics. And, it is easier to pay attention if you have some guidance as to what you should be looking for. (Also, I now know what "parataxis" is, so I'm already in the plus column on this book.)

So, this isn't a textbook; it's more like a companion reader. You can browse or read closely, and either way you will be entertained and benefited in equal measure. What a pleasure.

Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
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on 16 August 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Eagleton approaches his subject with enthusiasm and gives detailed examples from well-known stories, poems and plays to support his points. Sometimes he is in danger of disappearing up his own argument but, as he suggests when analysing the opening of Orwell's '1984', readers should be encouraged to think for themselves. Usefully organised into 5 sections: Openings, Character, Narrative, Interpretation and Value, I think this book would appeal to both students new to the study of English literature in higher/further education and those who have completed degrees who perhaps need reminding what it was that attracted them to the subject in the first place. Eagleton's preface opens with the line: 'Like clog dancing, the art of analysing works of literature is almost dead on its feet'. This book makes the art of 'slow reading' accessible, enjoyable and thought-provoking.
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on 6 October 2013
An excellent read for those who enjoy literature - novels, plays and poetry. Eagleton's opinions are very grounded and eclectic and are often expressed very amusingly. I shall be returning to some of my old favourites.
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on 18 September 2013
This book is aimed at general readers. It provides an opinionated account of what makes literature work (or not) and avoids the complexity and insiders guff of more academic works by the same author. Although you should be reasonably 'well-read' you don't have to have read all the classics to understand the points being made. Even if you don't always agree with what is said, the light touch and a strong sense of humour makes it immensely enjoyable. My only whinge is that it is a bit short.
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on 19 May 2013
The substance of the book and the correctness of the text is superb. I am disappointed with the indexing, following the link doesn't take me to the actual reference, so for study purposes it is a bit frustrating. Other than that I am very satisfied. Just realized that the pagination of an ebook will be different to a paper book. So in all liklihood will get used to it. Many thanks
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on 27 April 2015
Well organised, amusing and pithy. A good guide.
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on 15 May 2016
Arrived promptly. As described.
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Eagleton is logorrheic. Here he says things like 'It is important.. not to confuse fiction with reality' (hah! would Eagleton know reality if he fell over it?) and 'We should not be afraid to impute failings to the Bard'. The *Bard*?! In his shift-shaping oeuvre Terry's logorrheia is positively Whitmanesque. 'Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)' Will o' the wisp, or mosquito? Who is this for? And are we witnessing the decline of the west, as I suspect, or merely that of one who peaked too early? (I see we're of an age, Terry and me..)

Googling Eagleton after penning this review, I see I'm late on the case; William Deresiewicz accused the man of prolixity ten years ago, besides calling him 'a Marxist with three houses'. Martin Amis (whom I have very little time for, but who is one of few able to match scorn with scorn) has aptly said of Terry that he is 'unable to get out of bed in the morning without the dual guidance of God and Karl Marx'. Would you buy a used theory from this man?

Edit 3/17: I now regret this intemperate and ad hominem review. The man writes with lip-smacking relish and should be read in the same spirit. I'm upping my spiteful one-star grading to 3.5
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