Sunday, March 31, 2013

Interpreting Fiction: Step 3

Step one was about getting perspective. Two was about the anatomy of fiction. This, the third and final installment, is about research. I'm not gonna explain the process of researching because others do that well already. I will tell you why researching will enhance your reading and what problems you'll run into as you go.

Step 3: Enhance your reading because...

1)'s revealing and fascinating. Did you know that when J. M. Barrie was six, his thirteen year old brother died, which, as you can imagine, changed him and his family forever. I can't say for sure that the character Peter Pan is directly related to that event, but, well...he is. Knowing about the author and the context of a story can make a world of difference when you read a book, even if only to give you more things to guess and wonder about.

2)'s invigorating. Sherlock doesn't just sleuth for the money. Discovery is a natural high. Ever read Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"? Any idea what it's actually saying? Sure about that? Read a scholarly analysis and see what you think. Or if poetry's not your thing, take a well-written fantasy novel and look up what some of the names and titles mean. If you only ever read what's on the page and never research deeper into a story or its beginnings, you'll have seen the tree but missed the massive network of roots beneath.

3) ...there's more to life than what you're being told. In school we're given general bits of information that are easy to swallow and memorize for a test. After school, most of us get our information from whatever's trending on television, the internet, and the news. It's too much trouble to teach ourselves about things that aren't critical to eating, sleeping, and making money. But think about the vastness of the universe. I know that sounds tree-huggerish, but I'm serious. Think about it. Begin to remember how to like learning. It's possible we've only got one chance at life. Let's not waste it being told what to know.

Step 3.5: Be aware of the roadblocks

1) Overwhelmedness. If you google "A Christmas Carol", you'll get almost 14 million results. If you add "Christmas ghost stories" to your search, you've cut it down to about 600,000 results. That's progress. But it's full of false, misleading, ill-informed, or just plain weird and possibly erotic information. There's a better way. Get access to online peer reviewed journals, articles, books, ebooks, and reference materials through your school or local library. That way you start off with solid, reliable information that you can filter without all the other stuff on the internet crowding your search.

2) Boredom. Spending lots of time weeding through articles can be unappealing. If you're more sociable, find a librarian or a specialist in your particular area of interest. For example, if you (rightly) think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a genius at rhetoric and wanna learn more about him, take a trip to the MLK, Jr. National Historic Site, then go to the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and HistoryIf you're fascinated by Much Ado About Nothing, get dressed, go to a play, talk to the cast, talk to the director--hell, volunteer to paint the set for the next show. Intrigued by a book on sailing? Take sailing lessons. In short: get out the house.

3) Laziness. If you won't travel, don't have any interest in talking to humans, and can't be bothered with scholarly stuff, it's easy to do nothing. Hark! There's still google, even though I warned about it earlier. The key is to find reputable sites by reputable groups or organizations, like here or here or here, or if you're feeling really energetic, troll the youtube education archives for classes from Oxford to MIT to Yale on every subject you can think of without paying a bit of tuition or having to study for the test.


There's surely more to say and there are more examples to give, but it's time for you to go searching on your own and it's time for me to go to bed so I can wake up for a nice big Easter lunch. If you made it through the series, please accept this very sincere virtual hug. Happy Sunday. Happy Easter. Happy whatever tomorrow is to you.