Over the past two years, several classes have required me to read a broad number of books that rank from the “decent enough but wouldn’t read by choice” to “Oh God someone kill me please”. To make matters worse, I’m not in any sort of writing career, I’m going for Translator. While I understand the importance of being exposed to the different forms of language and all that, the amount of unrelated books I’m being asked to read is… infuriating.
As an anecdote, one particular class required me to read Red and Black from Stendhal. After I finished the five hundred pages of what I could summarize as “Delusional infantile imbecile gets lucky, acts like a moron and gets sentenced to death” with nothing but a very clear idea of how boring Stendhal thought Paris was in the time and a main character so devoid of common sense even the author felt the need to make fun of him on a regular basis, I went to do the test… in which not a single question regarding the book popped up. To rub salt on the wound, someone later gave me an address with book summaries in which, in neatly organized and well explained pages, I could get the entirety of the story just as if not better than I had understood it (Bored reading does wonders for attention) in a way that would have taken me half an hour/forty five minutes tops to read.
The page in question was www.sparknotes.com. Though very good, I found some other books I had been forced to read were not in there (Fair Stood the Wind for France, which I thought was passably good in comparison, and The Wild which… was not). Looking at the pile of stuff I’ll be getting dropped on me this year and the following, I’m scavenging for such pages right now, but I’m not risking employing any without at least somebody’s opinion.
So there. Yeah, I’m a filthy cheater, but I’m swamped enough with learning both the entirety of Generativist and Functionalist grammar approaches through two teachers who won’t make up their minds on what the hell to go with, a load of Law studies that I will probably never employ, the goddamn British phonetic system (Fuck you and your zillion unnecessary vowels) and, somehow in a distant minor position, learning actual translation. That, and I work too.
There’s no such thing as majors here, you enroll for a certain career and that’s it. Mine is Public National Translator. The problem is the system is far, FAR from perfect, and somehow a class that is supposed to teach me how to write correctly in formal and informal, but still neither technical nor literary ways involves reading several novels in very short time spans for no conceivable purpose. And it’s not just one or two that do this. It’s not so tough if I were to really put my mind into it (Done it before anyway), but it’s a huge waste of time and I’ve got plenty of other classes and work to divert my effort into.
That, and I fucking hate the books they make me read. Seriously, anyone actually liked Red and Black?
I was in a similar position once, Seraph. In high school, I took both Spanish and English Literature courses. The English one was great; I read everything from Twain to Dickens to Shelley. The Spanish one… not so good. In fact, I was left with the distinct impression that all Hispanic literature was the same stuff: a novel set in Colonial Times starring miserable people in corrupt societies who ended up just as if not more miserable. No real variety in themes or even writing techniques. God, I HATED it. You can see why I ended up developing my English Language skills so much: For years afterwards I would read anything in English but rarely anything in Spanish (to be fair, I did eventually find some good tales and novels in Spanish, but on my own, never in school or college.)
I guess the problem was, the Spanish curriculum was selected by some government committee while the English class teachers had more freedom of what to choose. Maybe that’s the same thing wrong with yours- somebody somewhere just made a list of what he thinks is “important reading material” without bothering to study if it would be educative or even enjoyable. In your position, I guess I would do the same thing- just read the synopsis online if you hate them so much. It sounds like it won’t make much of a difference anyway.
the goddamn British phonetic system (Fuck you and your zillion unnecessary vowels)
Well, I gotta agree with you, one of the few things I prefer about the Spanish language is that there aren’t that many variations on pronunciation. But that’s because English is a really mutt language, adapting words from all sorts of others. It’s more the fault of the people who use them than of the linguists who assemble the dictionaries. We Anime and RPG fans aren’t helping, you know. Doh!
(Spanish’s biggest flaw, in my opinion, is its overabundance of synonyms- one of the things I hate about reading in Spanish is how everybody, even newspaper columnists, can’t resist using as many “florid” words as they can, as if they were engaged in a poetry contest with each other instead of, you know, going to the frikkin’ point right away! )
Latinoamerican literature in my experience is as you describe. I had a lot of Garcia Lorca shoved down my throat and I bleeding hated it.
The British lexicon may be a goddamn mess thanks to borrowing from every other language on earth without adapting, but the phonetic system is even more annoying. There’s at least three different ways to spell every vowel except for e, and two ways for o. And damnit, if you put an r at the end of a word, USE IT.
I would like to hear your opinion on it. Even my teacher admitted that he gave it to us just to make a comparison between that and a 20th century novel (The Trial by Kafka) rather than its quality.
Lovely comparison. My rather short opinion on the topic will disappoint you, though. >.> I don’t remember any of it in details because I read it a while ago, but I just loved Stendhal’s writing style and his way to describe people’s thoughts. I suppose it helped that I read the French version. I also suppose it helped that I read it during a fun semester with only math, physics and fluids classes (and that I didn’t need to “analyze” it for a lit class). But still, I completely agree with your 14-word summary of the book. There was too much drama, the characters kept making utterly stupid decisions and complicated love stories make me want to kill people.
So you’re reading a translation from the French for an English class? A bit sadistic perhaps (though Marcel Proust is one of the best writers in English to my judgment.) When I’ve had to write about a book I haven’t read, I’ve found that reading particular (short) critical treatments of the work usually sells pretty well with professors. Find whatever Harold Bloom has to say about it, and you’ll probably discover whatever it is you’re supposed to talk about.
What are you supposed to be, some kind of Platonist?
Same problem with Dutch literature, except that it’s not because of school picks. I have read a lot of dutch literature, and the vast majority of it is either dealing with WW2, jewish self-hate, immigrant self-hate or are just exercises in masturbation on the part of the writer (hey what’s happenin’ Mulich).
My favourite Dutch book (Kaas) was written by some guy from Belgium. I can count the ones I actually like on one hand. If somebody knows anything GOOD, feel free to share, because I am firmly convinced that dutch lit is crap.
No you’re not, well, it might be different there, but here using Sparknotes et. al. isn’t considered cheating at all. It’s even been encouraged by some professors. Just make sure they’re good summaries of the book.
Read the Dutch translation of Knut Nærum’s book, Krig, Rhaka. It’s good, at least in Norwegian.
I’m not sure that it would be considered “literature” by some, but AC Baantjer wrote some of the best mysteries on the planet. Personally, I consider them very well written and have copies of them all in my library.
Unfortunately, sparksnotes is as good as you’re going to get. There are plenty of other ‘cheatsheat’(er, ‘book summary’) sites, and there’s also Cliffs Notes which are sold in real life, but none have nearly the same volume of works as sparksnotes, and they all cost money(unlike sparksnotes!). SN is free and if you can’t find a summary for a novel there, you won’t find it anywhere.
Also, don’t even think about signing up for a service to write a term paper for you. I had to write a research essay on these, and the people who work for these sites skim through the work really fast and produce sloppy, disjointed, and incoherent papers that will be much worse than anything you yourself could write. The general inchoherence of their work will also make the professor think you didn’t even read what you were supposed to. The image of geniuses easily popping out excellent papers is a myth.
Those things being said, I actually sort of know someone desparate for money who could make you a quality paper or at least read the book and give you a general outline for your paper, but I"m pretty sure he’d charge an arm and a leg, including buying the book for him
Also, most professors at a good school(and I don’t know how good your school is) will not give anything higher than a B+ for the analyses from Sparksnotes. The stuff in SN tends to be the conventional, widely accepted analysis, and most professors(at a good school) need you to come up with something original to get an A.
But at this point, I"m pretty much just rambling about unrelated things
And persoanlly, I find it is much funner to read the book and come up with some crackpot analysis and defend said crackpot analysis in a paper rather than use a “conventional” analysis borrowed from just about any source that mentions the book. Ya might as well be creative in school because you might not get the chance to do stuff like that later.
It is also possible to do an analysis of a really tedious book by developing a sort of ‘speed-reading’ system. Just read the key sentences of every paragraph (usually, the first and the last one) and/or write down every Capitalized word you find (they’re usually names of characters and places.) “Reading” this way usually allows you to finish chapters in minutes, and whole books in under an hour, while still getting all the important facts. Just remember to take notes as you go.