Can’t books ever just be books?

Can’t books ever just be books?

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Emma Sudderick discusses whether analysing literature ruins the enjoyment of a text.

Can analysing books to death remove all the enjoyment from reading?
Can analysing books to death remove all the enjoyment from reading?

Oscar Wilde stated in the Preface to A Picture of Dorian Gray that “books are well written, or badly written. That is all”. Whilst this may not be the most popular view to take, especially as an English student, it has almost become a motto for many as they bumble through the dense pages of their set texts. In the stress of having to analyse, assess, reanalyse and sweat out a beastly essay on the complexities of Renaissance courtly life or feminism in Victorian classics, it is very easy to slip into the belief that ‘all art is quite useless’.

When seeing your favourite book on a module, it is common to think that heaven has opened up and dropped you a First in a novel sized package. This is a mistake, a horrible mistake, because there is something incredibly soul destroying about analysing your favourite books. You stop loving the book for its fantasy, or romance, or excitement and instead start having an inner debate about whether or not the narrator is unreliable and whether there is enough misogyny in the book to write a 2,000 word essay.

That said, sometimes studying a novel can make you appreciate it more. There is a great satisfaction afforded by researching T S Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, a poem notorious for being complex beyond comprehension and leaving the reader with the feeling of having buried their head in a pot of clotted cream. By analysing the piece you stand a chance of understanding maybe one, or two stanzas (if you’re lucky) and feeling like a deity for the next few hours.

Often analysing a book makes you recognise something which you wouldn’t have initially seen had you not been highlighting the life out of the pages of your £7.99 paperback. Analysing books also provides very useful talking points at parties (although, I’m not sure what parties you’d be talking about the complexities of novels at – probably not very good ones), and allows you to sound effortlessly intellectual and pompous.

It’s this pomposity which makes analysing a text both satisfying and irritating. In an academic sense, seeing how much you can get from one sentence is proof of your critical rationality and can enforce an open-mindedness which allows you to explore the world through different viewpoints. Unfortunately, by analysing some texts it can ruin the initial reaction that the reader has. Sometimes it is more satisfying and more productive to accept that you don’t understand a text. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to recognise the beauty of a novel for beauty’s sake. You wouldn’t pluck the petals off a flower to see what makes it beautiful. You just look at the flower, say it’s pretty, and admire it.

It is sometimes violently nauseating to try and figure out what the author intended, especially when sometimes the author probably didn’t intend anything at all. By trying to understand what authors mean, very frequently we find ourselves trying to outsmart the author. This is a very unfortunate situation, because you are constantly thinking that you’re not looking at the story the right way. But the beauty of reading is that there isn’t a right way. Books are wonderful because they don’t have to be analysed to be special. Analysis is important and often rewarding. But sometimes books should just be left as books.

Emma Sudderick

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