By: Haley Holmes
If you’ve ever been in an English class, chances are you’ve been assigned a book to read by the instructor. That being said, it is likely that you never would have chosen to read the book under your own volition in any other circumstance. Unfortunately, if you want to pass your class, you don’t have a choice in the matter. Most likely you will end up suffering through the long chapters, ignoring pivotal moments or vital symbols, and only really understanding the book in the loosest sense of the word. Lucky enough for you, there are many simple ways to combat a “boring” or “bad” book.
When dealing with a book, fiction or not, there aren’t many materials needed to make it interesting and engaging. The most important things are your mind and, of course, the book.
As with any other form of entertainment, the number one rule with books is to not give up too early. Would you have stopped watching a movie just because the previews took too long? Don’t judge a book by its cover, and certainly don’t close it up after the first page. More often than not, the book is building up to its climax. Most books tend to get more interesting as pages pass, so it is best to power through the first few chapters before making a decision. If that is not the case for you, don’t lose hope. There are still many ways to read.
If the “wait and see” approach doesn’t work for you, perhaps the reward system will. As years go by, more and more classic novels are being taken to the silver screen. There is a good chance that the book you have to read has been turned into a movie, and it is likely the movie is relatively good. If you have never read the novel and you haven’t seen the movie, make the movie a reward for yourself. While traveling through the dark tunnel, the movie will be the light at the end. Make finishing the book look better than tossing it aside. If even that does not work, though, there are still a few more options.
If you have been assigned this book for a class, it is likely that other students are reading the same book with you. If you personally cannot cope at all with the book you are reading (or loathing, in this case) it may help you to discuss the book with another student, or a friend. Don’t talk to someone that is having as much trouble as you are, but try to find someone that is actually enjoying the book. If they are willing to talk to you, it is likely that they can help shed some light on parts of the novel you may have overlooked, misinterpreted, or ignored. This may open you up to a different understanding of the book, and you may find that you enjoy it more than you thought you did.
If all of that fails, there is still more to try. If you can’t enjoy the book alone, change the medium that you are using to read. If you have an iPad or a tablet computer or an eReader, it may help you to read on that instead of reading on paper. The ability to rapidly define words, highlight key points, and interact with the book on a different level may help you pay attention. Also available are audio books. Sometimes reading in silence just doesn’t work, so obtaining an audio version of the book may help you. You can follow along with the audio and highlight as you listen. If it is a good audio book, there may even be character voices and sound effects that may make the reading experience more enjoyable for you.
If all else fails, and I do mean ALL else, then an emergency resource you can use is Spark Notes. This is not the end all of the entire situation, I am not telling you to look at Spark Notes instead of actually reading the book, but the website is quite helpful in a tough situation. In this case, if you have read the book and you just didn’t understand it, Spark Notes provides clear and detailed plot summaries that are easy to understand. While it may not make the book more enjoyable, it will help you understand what was going on and improve your understanding. Spark Notes also includes important symbols and quotes that you can look at. This may help you decide whether or not the symbols you choose are relevant or if you’re just reading too closely. In short, Spark Notes is the last resort of a tired reader, but is very helpful when used.
Now, after you have read and analyzed the book that brought you to this article, you may be feeling quite uneasy. Will your teacher assign a book similar to that one? Will the next book you read be worse than the last? Why does your teacher hate you so much as to assign such a terrible book? Well, the truth is that the teacher doesn’t hate you, and they probably think the book is good. The opinion of the student is not the absolute definition of a good or bad book, and the teacher takes that into account. However, some teachers do consider the feelings of their students.
Here at Oceana, 9/10 Humanities and AP Literature teacher Karen Scher chooses to poll her AP students at the end of the year. This basically amounts to a sheet of paper where each student may critique every book they have read that year, from the best to the worst. Such reviews do change the curriculum too. Books have been removed from the Scher AP list because of a multitude of bad student reviews. In a sense, while you may have to suffer through one terrible book, you can make sure that no one else has to. Many other teachers also include periods of time where the student gets to choose the book they want to read. For example, in between all of the class-wide assignments, Ms. Scher’s AP class has two units of outside reading, where the student can choose a book from a list and read that. This list is also subject to scrutiny at the end of the year. Many other teachers include SSR times in their classes where the student may read whatever he or she desires. Typically, there is a balance between forced reading and chosen reading.
In short, when it comes to books you absolutely have to read, maybe it is best for you not to think about them that way. Don’t think of reading as a chore, just try to have fun with it. If that is not possible, try anything to get yourself going. Don’t give up on a book, even if you hate it.