What I’m writing here is something I’ve done/been doing/am doing/will be doing. By writing this, I’m by no means claiming that I have succeeded in it. Far from that, sure thing. I’m writing this because I know many will/can benefit from this. So, listen up, y’all:
To take the most out of literature—other than mere pleasure—there are a couple of points to consider:
- Decide the geographical/spatial/national/cultural setting. Say, for example, take American literature.
- Decide the time frame or temporal setting. Say, late nineteenth century to early twentieth century.
- Done with those two above, now you can navigate within these boundaries by, say, schools of thought or aesthetic leanings. Take, for example, “realism.”
- Then decide the authors or works you can find within these boundaries. While reading, you can go back and forth between history and school of thought or politics and philosophies.
Doing such, added with an adequate portion of hard-work with secondary and tertiary materials such as critical commentaries or pure historical sources, you will be amazed how you will get a grasp of literature and history and culture in a holistic way, in a way that is different from reading merely literary works (because reading literary works only will easily put you in a vague understanding of its context), history books (history books tend to focus on turns of events that are of great importance to the whole civilization, while in fact to know a certain era holistically we also need to know how individuals in those era perceive the world).
I don’t always succeed in such doing. But at least there have been moments when I felt satisfied with this method. Those are the moments that I want you to also experience. It’s such a self-rewarding experience when we can do that.