How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton: Book Review
How to Read Literature is penned by the British literary theorist, critic, and public intellectual Terry Eagleton. His full name is Terence Francis Eagleton, and he resides in Dublin. I bought this book from the ‘Wayword and Wise’ bookstore in Mumbai sometime in 2018 but picked to read it only last week. I read it in four days as I had a tight schedule of teaching, corrections, and blogging. The book is witty, intelligent, very rich in literary critiques, and yes, it does manage to teach a person ‘how to read literature’. Terry Eagleton gets five stars from me on Goodreads, and now I will talk about this fantastic book that has educated me and made me realize so much about a subject I wanted to delve into all my life.
I enjoy a very peculiar relationship with English literature. Anyone who knows me and my body of work and the subjects I teach would think that I am an English literature graduate or post-graduate. That is incorrect. I have a BA degree in History and Sociology. For my post-graduate degree in education, my special subjects were yet again, not English literature, but a rudimentary knowledge of History and English. However, today I write and publish books mostly related to English literature. I have abridged the ‘Rare Classics’ with my co-author Michaelangelo Zane, and they have been illustrated by the distinguished illustrator Farzana Cooper. ‘Rare Classics’ is dedicated to abridging those classics which have never been abridged before for children in the age group 7-12 to introduce them to rare literary works by classic writers. I mainly teach English language and literature to my students from grades seven to grade twelve. I am well known for my knowledge of English literature. Recently a college and now Facebook friend mistakenly thought that I had graduated in English. I have read more fiction books in my life than non-fiction. I used to get good grades in school only in the English language and literature. However, after school, I never felt compelled to take English literature as a subject to graduate in. I will always prefer History, and I am very comfortable with that subject. But students prefer me as an English teacher. In the indie-publishing world, I have won more than seventy awards for my body of work. But despite all this, I lacked in my literary critiquing area. I wanted to be a better literary critic and theorist. I tried to improve my critique of short stories, prose, poetry, novels, novellas, and more. I bought many books in this regard over the past three years to improve myself. Terry Eagleton’s book is one of them.
Now, coming to how Eagleton’s book has helped me and what the book is all about. How to Read Literature is full of subtle, intelligent humor with a potent mix of truth and facts regarding literary criticism. It is an excellent book for beginners in literature as well as for literature buffs like me. Eagleton explains that most of us have got the wrong notion about:
- Opening lines in fiction books and what they tell readers.
- Characters and their roles in the narratives we read.
- Narratives and how different they are from the plot of the story.
- Interpretations of short stories and novels: it’s not a free-for-all, and anything goes. Oh no!
- Lastly, the values we gain from the literary text makes the whole narrative coherent and a good read.
Frankly, most of us think we know a lot about all these factors, but the reality is that we don’t. The best part of Eagleton’s book is that it is not a ‘how-to’ or a ‘self-help’ book. It is a well-constructed book of intensive essays and analyzes many great literary works. It teaches us how they can be interpreted and what values we can glean from them. This book helped me. I’m sure that there are many of you out there who also want to become better at critiquing novels, poems, and short stories. I wish to become a better writer, reader, teacher, and blogger of quality bookish content. If you are on the same wavelength and are looking for a good read, invest your time and, of course, money, in How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton. It is a mind-blowing book of ways to look at themes, forms, subjects, characters, and use of psychology in the literature that you, probably, never thought of before. I guarantee you that this book is an excellent introduction to English literary criticism, and what it takes to analyze a work of fiction with the right mix of subjective and objective views. Do yourself a favor and read this book. Buy this book on your Kindle or from Amazon, today.
Now coming to the subtle humor bits, the book is packed with them. Reading this book won’t be boring, and there is some very downright mischievous subtle humor that Eagleton uses, which will make anyone crack up. My favorite was his literary critique of the nursery rhyme ‘Ba-Ba-Black sheep’. That piece made me smile when I first read it. I won’t forget the joke Eagleton played on me. The critique of ‘Ba-Ba-Black sheep’ is also one of the crucial moments in the book, which shows us a mirror image of ourselves and how wrongly we are in interpreting literature, especially now during this post-truth digital overdose explosion. Incidentally, I have always hated the nursery rhyme ‘Ba-Ba-Black Sheep’ right from the time I was a toddler. In the many nursery stories read to me, my sympathies were always with the wolves and the children or pigs or grandmothers or goats that they kept on eating. To know more about me and my life in books, you can go on Amazon and check out my bookish memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai.
Another part of the book that I found hilarious was the indirect mention of President Donald Trump being a Romantic period literary person. Sure, why not. He, too, believes in things that are false and not real, doesn’t he? If you are not broadminded where your international politics is concerned, then avoid reading this book. However, if you can trust me when I say that this is the book you should be chewing on right now, especially when we have wrong notions about critiques and canceling, then go ahead and get your copy today. It’s worth the time and worth the effort. You will surely be scribbling inside your book all the time as novel ways of looking at stories, poems, plays, and novels are discussed.
The book was not heavy for me because I do read a lot of serious literature and non-fiction. But this is not a light read, and the tongue-in-cheek jokes can confuse a lazy reader. If you decide on reading this book, please be alert while doing so.
If I had to pick my favorite part in the book, it would be where it is mentioned about books generating new meanings over time. Maybe a book written in the Romantic ear of literature was overlooked back then, but can become popular and suited to the current or the future scenario. That is what happened to George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian fantasy realistic fiction novel. I loved the references and examples of critiquing that Eagleton has penned for us to try and imitate. I loved his brief analysis of the literary significance behind the writings of Harry Potter books. Truth be told, I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. But the piece written about it by Eagleton makes you sit back and think about the many angles one can view the Harry Potter series and what their varied or myriad set of characters mean to a reader and literary critic.
I don’t want to give out more spoilers in this book review, so once again, I ask you to read this book. Support Terry Eagleton and educate yourself about quality literature and quality reading. There are many people out there who feel they know how to review books. The truth is that they are just out to cancel books and to judge them like an Armageddon god of fire and brimstone. Don’t be a pain in the neck. Please read How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton.
I have Eagleton’s book The Event of Literature in my personal library and hope to get to it soon. I will then review the book for you on my blog. There are more books that I have bought to improve myself and the quality of my blog posts, and I hope to read a good number of them in the coming months.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, you can check my websites fizapathanpublishing.us and fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan
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