How to Approach Reading a Classic

How to Read the Classics

Interested in reading more classics but a little intimidated? Here a few strategies you can try to make reading classics easier!

Read the Introduction

Skipping all the “boring” forewords and introductions might seem like the best way to jump into a book without getting bogged down by too much information that you are not even sure you care about. The introductory material usually, however, provides valuable knowledge that will help you understand what you are about to read. It should provide information about the author and their cultural and historical context, as well as information about how the book has been received and interpreted, and notes about significant passages, themes, and questions for you to be looking for. Doing this extra work at the start will make reading the actual book easier later on.

Do Some Research

If your edition does not have a good introduction, feel free to do some quick research online! All you really need is a short overview to get you situated. Do not worry about scholarly journals or anything like that. An encyclopedic entry noting the time period, significant influences on the work, and notable themes is a good start. If you later find yourself intrigued, feel free to keep on researching!

Check Out the Table of Contents

Looking at the Table of Contents will give you a visual guide to the journey you are about to embark on. It will allow you to mentally prepare yourself for what is ahead and even to organize how you want to proceed. For instance, you might decide to read a chapter a day. Or to finish Part I by a certain date. Even if you just decide to read what you are able, without setting goals, looking at the Table of Contents gives you more context about the book in general, which will help you feel more comfortable once you dive in.

Pay Attention to Footnotes and Endnotes

Ignoring footnotes and endnotes can be tempting, but they are there to help you! Some, of course, might not be of as much interest to you, if they are referring to a source or providing information for further research. Some, however, will explain obscure or arcane words, or provide cultural and historical context, so you will suddenly understand how arriving in a certain carriage indicates social class, or sending an invitation in a certain way could actually be construed as an insult. Without these notes, the story may be harder to understand. So doing apparently more work (reading extra) will actually make reading easier in the end.

Mark It Up!

If you own the book, don’t be afraid to annotate! If you look up a word in the dictionary, write the definition on the page. If you notice an allusion or learn something about the cultural context, jot that down, too. Writing the information down will help you remember it, and it will also make your reread a little easier!

Don’t Stress

If you do not understand everything at once, don’t worry about it! Even the best of readers do not understand everything the first time around (or many times around!). You might find you have to reread a passage several times. Or you have to look up what it means. Or maybe you just want to move on, go with the flow, and hope things become clearer to you as you progress. Whatever you decide is okay, if it works for you! In the end, just being able to complete the book will give you a sense of accomplishment. And the next time you read it, it will seem even easier.

Don’t Think You Have to Like or Even Appreciate the Book

So you finished the book! Congratulations! But you hated it. Not to worry. Knowing a book is a “classic” can make readers feel obligated to like it or find something good about it, lest they be accused of being uncultured. The fact is, however, that classic books are just books–that were published in the past. Most people do not like every book written today, so there is no reason to suppose most people would like every book written in the past. Classics come in all genres, age ranges, writing styles, time periods, and more. So if you didn’t like the classic you just read, there may still be another one out there for you to love.

Conclusion

Sometimes reading a classic book can seem like a lot of work. All the introductions and forewords and prefaces and endnotes and footnotes can seem overwhelming. However, most of this information is provided to help orient readers in a time, place, and even language that may not be familiar to them. Approach the work slowly and take what helpful bits you can from the editorial material. Doing this extra reading will pay off in the end. And if you still don’t understand it? That’s okay! Even the best of readers do not understand everything. Keep on trying and your skills will improve!

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10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in February 2021

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. Xandra explains why she cut her Goodreads challenge in half.
  2. Sammie shares humorous books to brighten your week.
  3. Aria discusses how blogging has affected her reading.
  4. Michael shares what he learned watching 26 episodes of Harley Quinn in 8 days.
  5. Luke recommends the best (and worst) Tolkien reference books for Tolkien.
  6. Alison recommends YA standalones.
  7. Eustacia reviews The Celtic Twilight by W. B. Yeats.
  8. Sofii discusses motivation as a reader and book blogger.
  9. Interesting Literature shares 10 of the Best Poems about Classical Myth.
  10. Sophie explains How to Write a Zero Draft & My Experience.
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Highlights at Pages Unbound

Participate in our Tolkien Survey!

Answer random questions about Tolkien, and we will post the results during our annual Tolkien Reading Event at the end of this month!

Discussion Posts

What Makes a Good Book Comparison?

Most readers probably have, at one point or another, been drawn to a book because of a comparison on the cover. “Game of Thrones meets The Bachelor!” it might proclaim. Or “Alice in Wonderland gets a modern update.” Maybe even something like, “This is Narnia for a new generation.” And, of course, there is the ubiquitous, “Perfect for fans of Harry Potter.” These comparisons are an effective marketing strategy by publishers eager to sell books to already established fan bases. But, very often, the comparisons end up feeling forced and maybe even false.

The trouble with book comparisons is that very often they seem to rely on quite superficial resemblances. A mystery might advertise itself as something like “Sherlock meets Star Trek” just because it is a mystery set on a spaceship, and not because there are any other similarities among the works. Likewise, any number of middle-grade fantasies sell themselves as the “next Harry Potter” simply because both books are fantasies targeted towards ages 8-12. Some might try to go farther, perhaps relying on similar plot elements such as the presence of a school for magic or the fact that both main characters are orphans. Often, however, even similarities such these are not enough to make a book truly feel like Harry Potter.

The reality is that a good number of books have similar plot elements, maybe because those plot elements happen to work to create drama or to entice readers, maybe because there really is nothing new under the sun. So even listing a number of similarities such as, “high fantasy, contains a quest, main character is an Everyman, pseudo-medieval world, lots of Elves, one Dark Lord” is not necessarily going to make a book the new Lord of the Rings. Fantasies in general tend to have things like elves, dragons, and swords simply because they are fantasies and these elements are now staples of the genre. To convince readers that a book really is something fans of X would like to read next, book comparisons should go deeper.

If one reads Harry Potter critically it is, on the surface, actually not much different than many middle-grade fantasies. It introduces a neglected orphan who is whisked away to a magical world, where they discover they are special and may even have to save the world. There are the usual plot elements such as a Dark Lord to be defeated, a wise father figure to mentor the hero on the way, and more. Is it the wizards that made Harry Potter a global phenomenon? The magical boarding school? Or something else?

Books resonate with readers because, even though stories may seem to have similar outlines when reduced to the bare bones of a plot, writers imbue those elements with something special and unique. Hogwarts is a very different magical school when compared to places like Firefox (Keeper of the Lost Cities) or the Wundrous Society (Nevermoor) or the School for Good and Evil (School for Good and Evil books) or Camp Half-Blood (Percy Jackson). So a wise book comparison would ask, “What is about Hogwarts, specifically, that people like?” What is it beyond the fact that, yes, there is magic?

Defining what makes books unique, what makes them resonate can be difficult, if not impossible, because it requires thinking in the abstract. One might consider that Hogwarts is kind of quirky, sometimes wonderful, sometimes weird, but often dangerous. Or they might think that there is an element of wish fulfillment involved: Hogwarts is special because it is based in a real-world location and any eleven-year-old might discover one day that they are actually a witch or a wizard. Or they might just think that Rowling did a really excellent job of detailed worldbuilding, making Hogwarts seem quite real. Whatever one decides the hidden power of a book is, it will not be something as concrete as, “Includes a cool castle and tons of secret passageways.” It will be something deeper than that, something hard to define, and maybe hard to express. It may even be something so deep that no two readers experience it in the same way.

When I look for a book that is “perfect for readers of X,” what I am really looking for is a book that will somehow capture a bit of the same spirit of X. I want it to take me on a similar imaginative journey, to give me a bit of the same hope or wonder or excitement. I do not want a replica of the plot line or merely a book that happens to be in the same genre or the same age range. I want a book that touches that secret part of the soul that responds to the beauty and the enchantment of a story.

Fulfilling such a desire may seem a dauntless task. How much easier it is to write a checklist of facts like, “set in the 1800s, features an orphan girl, contains coming-of-age themes.” But a good book comparison will strive to fill that abstract need anyway. Because readers do not read for a checklist. They read for something more.

What YA Contemporary Should You Read Next? (Flow Chart)

More Flow Charts

More about These Books

*Click the title to read a full review.


OCD, the Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn

Protagonist Danielle is forced to enroll in a “social skills” course, where she meets another student obsessed with The Big Lebowski, and they begin to become friends. The novel is a compilation of Danielle’s writing—school essays (in a conversational style that drives her English teacher insane), emails, personal reflections, post cards, and more—and the look inside her mind is staggering. 

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American Panda by Gloria Chao

At seventeen, Mei is already a freshman at MIT and planning to study pre-med.  At least, that’s what her parents want.  They have her life all planned out, down to her career and whom she will marry. But, as Mei struggles with her fear of germs and begins to fall in love with an off-limits guy, she starts to wonder if she could have a different life.  If she has the courage to rebel, like the son her parents disowned.

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Save the Date by Morgan Matson

When Charlie Grant’s older sister decides to get married at home, Charlie is excited all her older siblings (or she hopes all) will return, and things will be like they used to be. However, family drama and life changes means things can’t quite me like they were when all the Grant siblings were kids, and Charlie has to help make sure various mishaps don’t ruin her sister’s wedding completely/

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Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

Rob was at the top of the social hierarchy, until his father was convicted of embezzling funds, and attempted suicide. Now everyone believes Rob knew, and no one will talk to him. Maegan was an overachiever with a stellar record–until she was caught cheating. Now her reputation follows her everywhere. When the two are assigned to be calculus partners, neither expects the project to go well. But soon they are opening up to each other, and maybe even falling for each other. Then Maegan learns of Rob’s plans to help the people his father hurt. And she can’t help but think that being a modern-day Robin Hood can hardly end well.

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Let’s Talk about Love by Claire Kann

Official Summary:

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple has put school behind her after graduation, but she is excited about attending a summer program for web developers.  Little does she know that her parents are still planning to find her the perfect Indian husband: Rishi Patel is attending the same camp.  A cute contemporary romance.

10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in January 2021

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. The Orangutan Library discusses All the Positives with Negative Reviews.
  2. Hadeer shares 10 Books for a Black History Month TBR.
  3. Eustacia asks whether it’s important to be well-read.
  4. Rukky discusses bookish memes and games
  5. Katie asks whether literacy and reading are inherently valuable.
  6. Julia shares little things she loves in books.
  7. Alison lists some 2021 book-to-movie adaptations.
  8. Katie jokes about the tropes to write a YA fantasy.
  9. Sammie reviews The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott.
  10. Michael reflects on Spider-Man, Betty Brant, and love.
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Highlights at Pages Unbound

You can still sign up to guest post about Tolkien in March!

Our annual Tolkien Reading Event usually gets a good turn-out, so people will definitely read your guest post. 😉 Read more about signing up here.

Other Posts

Wanted: Guest Posts for Our Annual Tolkien Reading Event (March 2021)

During March 2021, Pages Unbound will be running our seventh Tolkien Reading Event.  Every year on March 25, the Tolkien Society celebrates Tolkien Reading Day, and we like to expand on the event by hosting several days’ worth of Tolkien-related content.  We have had some wonderful guest posts in the past and would like to invite you to submit a guest post this year.

Official Tolkien Society Theme: Will be announced closer to March. Check here or the Tolkien Society web site.

Post Options

The Tolkien Reading Event is open to a wide variety of posts.  In previous events, we have featured everything from book reviews to quizzes to serious literary criticism.   Pitch us an idea for any type of post you would like!  You can also review books and movies that have been featured before; we love new perspectives! See a full list of past posts here.

If you need ideas, we are particularly open to posts about:

  • the official theme: to be announced by the Tolkien Society
  • any aspect of The Silmarillion
  • the art of Middle-Earth
  • a tour of your Tolkien collection (books or merchandise)
  • Tolkien’s villains
  • reviews of books about (not by) Tolkien
  • reflections on Tolkien’s “minor” works (Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, Roverandom)

Details

If you are interested in participating, please fill out the Google form below.  We will begin the event on Sunday, March 21, and so would like to receive guest posts by March 14.  We will contact everyone with final details around that time (such as what day your guest post will be scheduled).  Please feel free to spread the word to fellow Tolkien fans!

Title: Please tell us what you would like the title of the post to be when you send us the draft! Otherwise, you will be subject to our whims. 😉

Post Length: There is no required post length; however long you feel you need to address the topic is fine.

Photos/Graphics: Feel free to include photos or graphics if you would like, but only include images you own the rights to post.  (Basically, no copyright infringement, please!)

Poems: Excerpts of poems are fine, but please do not include entire poems still under copyright.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUEST POSTING, PLEASE FILL OUT THE GOOGLE FORM BELOW.

*LOTR clip art by Nesca at CuteGraphicSupply.

Click to Fill out Google Form

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfjHCU5G45y1oUo3tC2xiwVNLh_DnfHn52WyubgvXe1XUTeoA/viewform?usp=sf_link

10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in December 2020

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. Jawahir the Bookworm explains affiliate programs and gives tips and tricks.
  2. Marie shares her book blogging resources.
  3. Rachel explains Why Your Instagram Engagement Kinda Sucks Right Now.
  4. The Orangutan Librarian shares some of the books she successfully DNF’ed.
  5. Way Too Fantasy lists favorite reads of 2020.
  6. Rin discusses whether it’s fair to have negative opinions of reviewers.
  7. Amber talks instalove and whether it actually makes sense.
  8. Michael reflects on the Doctor Who Christmas special “Voyage of the Damned.”
  9. Jenna shares 2021 middle grade reads on her radar.
  10. Sammie reviews The Cousins by Karen M. McManus.
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Highlights at Pages Unbound

Clever Girl Finance: Learn How Investing Works, Grow Your Money by Bola Sokunbi

Clever Girl Finance Book Cover

Goodreads: Clever Girl Finance
Series: Clever Girl Finance
Source: Library
Published: October 20, 2020

Learn the basics of investing with this approachable guide to the world of finance

Clever Girl Finance: Learn How Investing Works, Grow Your Money is the leading guide for women who seek to learn the basic foundations of personal investing. In a no-nonsense and straightforward style, this book teaches readers:

Exactly how investing works and what you should be doing, no fancy finance degree required How to leverage investing to build long term wealth even on a modest salary The key pitfalls to avoid in order to become a successful investor How to build a nest egg and invest in your future Insights from real-world success stories from other “clever girl investors” Clever Girl Finance teaches readers the irreplaceable value of investing for long-term financial gain, and the difference between making money and building wealth.

Written for any woman who’s ever sought out an accessible introduction to the world of investing, this book is especially suited to women interested in learning how investing works and taking guided action towards their financial success.

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I’ve reviewed a couple beginners’ finance books on the blog before including Napkin Finance and How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000 (which is geared towards kids). While all three of these books were informative and accessible, Clever Girl Finance might be my favorite for offering clear concrete steps and links for readers who want to start investing.

Clever Girl Finance neatly covers the basics of investing, explaining to readers, for example, what different types of retirement funds are and how they work or explaining how the stock market works or how compound interest works. This is all extremely useful, of course, and Sokunbi covers it all clearly and extensively.

The book really shines, however, in that it doesn’t stop at explaining what different ways to invest are or how to work; it tells the reader pretty clearly how they would go about doing so. For instance, it mentions by name companies like Betterment (which I had never heard of before), letting readers know that this is a place they can go for robo-advising and investing. The book includes tons of links and resources, and there are often sections that tell Canadians and other international readers where to go, so not everything is geared towards Americans. Basically, if you have absolutely no idea how to invest, this is the book I would recommend.

It’s also nicely motivational. There are interviews with various successful women investors, who tell their stories and explain what their investment strategies are. There’s a good array here; some had to climb out of debt first, some started investing later in life, some favor different types of investing than others, etc. I think the book does really hit its mark of empowering women to learn to invest, although of course the information would be useful to everyone.

This isn’t the most exciting book I’ve ever read, but it may be one of the most useful. Clear, extensive, and uplifting…there’s nothing not to love.

Briana
5 stars

Trends I Think We’ll See in Book Blogging in 2021

Here are my annual predictions for what I think book blogging will look like in 2021, touching on what I think will be new(ish) in what bloggers are reading and what they are reading.

See my 2020 blogging predictions here! (And tell me if I was right!) You can review my 2018 predictions here.

More E-books

E-books aren’t new, obviously, and book bloggers have been reading and featuring and even photographing them for years, but I think e-books might be a bit more prominent as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Libraries may not be open or may have limited options for borrowing physical books, and people might be avoiding going in-person to libraries or bookstores. Budgeting might also be a priority for those who are unemployed or have received reduced pay. Buying e-books or borrowing them from the library can save readers money and help them stay at home.

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More Book Bloggers Trying to Monetize

I touched on monetization in my 2018 predictions but not in my 2020 ones because this is a topic that comes up with book bloggers fairly often, and then it seems as if most don’t actually move towards monetization (which is fine; I certainly haven’t!). I do think the conversation was a bit more serious towards the end of 2020, and I saw bloggers discussing how they planned to make a bit of money and how they were putting together media kits, so perhaps 2021 is finally the year more book bloggers get some cash!

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More Book Bloggers on Pinterest

I had this in my 2020 post, as well, and I do think book blogger activity on Pinterest picked up last year, but I also continued to see book bloggers ask about the platform, how to use it, whether it’s worth using, etc., so I think we’ll see even more bloggers join this year. (For what it’s worth, I recommend it! You can read how I increased our blog traffic by using Pinterest here.)

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Awards Get More Contentious

Awards of all kinds have received criticism in the past couple years. People are perpetually frustrated that the Goodreads Choice Awards let readers vote for books that haven’t even been released, for instance. Readers have also noted that the GRC Awards are focused on popularity (ratings and reviews), which may or may not correlate with book quality. Informal blogger-run awards to recognize bloggers have received backlash for seeming too cliquey. And in November 2020, Epic Reads tweeted they’d received feedback their Book Nerd of the Year category did not have diverse nominees, and they hope to fix that in the future. I don’t know exactly what this means for awards in the future. Will they change to address feedback? Will some be canceled? Only time will tell, but I do predict that, whatever happens, we’ll all have something to discuss.

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More Bloggers Attend – And Post About – Online Bookish Events

Obviously a lot of bookish events and conferences went virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that trend will continue at least through the first half of 2021, before a vaccine can be widely distributed. ReedPop announced, however, that BookExpo and BookCon as we know them will be canceled entirely, forever, and that whatever replaces them will include a hybrid of in-person and virtual events, to better serve people who can never make it to in-person conferences. Likely other event organizers will continue to offer virtual options even when in-person meetings are possible. But will bloggers post about them? I didn’t see a lot of posts about attending virtual BookCon or a virtual author event, the way I’d normally see posts from people who went to in-person ones, but maybe 2021 is the year we start writing about our virtual experiences, as well.

What trends do you think we’ll see in book blogging in 2021?

Briana

2020: Blogging Year in Review

Favorite Books Read in 2020

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Blogging Stats and Facts

Top 4 Countries for Visitors

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • India

*(No change from 2018 and 2019)

Top Referrers

  • Search Engines
  • Pinterest (This is the first year this is our #2 referrer, surpassing WordPress views! We had over 20,000 views from Pinterest.)
  • WordPress Reader
  • Twitter (not remotely close to views from other sources)

Blog Views

~137,000 views, our best year ever!

We had ~106,000 views in 2018 and dipped down to ~89,000 in 2019. The increase in views this past year is attributable to, I think, more views from Pinterest and more views in general from people being home and online during the pandemic.

Here is the graph of our views from our decade of blogging: (We definitely didn’t always have this many views.)

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Reading Stats and Facts

  • Oldest Book Briana Read This YearThe Romance of Tristan
  • Longest Book Briana Read: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armetrout
  • Briana’s Pages Read: ~25,000
  • Most Read Books: young adult, middle grade, classics
  • Percentage of Briana’s Books from Library: 37% (This always seems low because I really don’t buy that many books, but I guess I just read a lot of books I already own or that people give to me…)
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Our Most Viewed Posts

The first three posts were in our top 5 for 2019, but the last two are new this year. All of our top posts get their views either from search engine hits or Pinterest clicks. You can read more about how I use Pinterest for book blogging here.

The most viewed post we published in 2020:
Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?

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Coming in 2021: Our Annual Tolkien Reading Event

We’ll be hosting our annual Tolkien Reading Event in March 2021. If you would like to contribute a guest post about Tolkien, his work, or something related (for instance, the Inklings), the sign-up form will be up on our blog in January.

Other Upcoming Posts

  • Book Blogging Predictions for 2021
  • 5 Retellings of Little Women
  • Nonfiction reviews
  • The Lives of Saints review
  • and more!
Briana