Why Not?


Why Reading Guides Should Be Banned by Jackson
November 17, 2009, 3:47 am
Filed under: Jackson

The Annotated Alice adds many levels of depth to the befuddling novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

However, by injecting all the new information and cross-text, it also removes some important elements of the novel: homework and discovery. You’re forced to do a lot of work to really appreciate the novel, but when you do, the sense of discovery and adventure is vastly rewarding. When a book with ambiguous meaning hits the shelves, critics swarm to be the first to pick all the nits. Within days, all aspects of the pristine novel are being looked at with a microscope. When you look at the analysis, you see almost nothing to do with the real text of the book, and merely a few randomly drawn conclusions. Over-analysis is one of the major enemies of a good book.

One thing that I absolutely abhor is the experience of finishing a good book, with a satisfying ending. I notice that there is an extra section at the back. “Neat,” I think, “this might be a preview of the next book in the series.” I turn the page, and am greeted by these words: Reading Comprehension Guide. This annoys me to no end. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen all as much with books directed towards more mature readers, but in the children’s books that I am (strangely still) compelled to dig out every once in a while, the emergence of these questions still feels to me like the desecration of a piece of art.

Still more annoying is the fact that the questions take away the “magic” of a novel. I understand that in everything there is an reason. This, however, is never a good reason to pick apart all the excitement and adventure in a book with questions such as “Why did (insert character here) do (insert action) with (insert other character), when he could have done…” and so forth. Yes, the questions make you think. Yes, they may increase your understanding of the novel.

But why can’t we, the readers who cling to all the words of action and adventure in a complex fiction novel, gain that understanding by discussing it with our friends in a non-organized and regulated fashion? One reason I dislike the concept of “summer reading” is that I know that excellent works of fiction and nonfiction will be dissected in a fashion that ruins the enjoyment of a book by turning it into work. When we take apart Alice, we are ripping whole “pages” of a sort from the book, by picking away all the magic from a story and replacing it with our own flat, mechanical, unoriginal words.

As E.B. White so eloquently puts it, “Analysing humor [or, in this case, literature] is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.”


1 Comment so far
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Your post reminds me of one of mine. I agree, analyzing a story can painfully ruin a work of art. I always wondered how teachers knew that books had all these secret meanings and symbolism. When I write, I rarely think of double meanings or how the sun might secretly be a symbol of love. I enjoy writing, but usually the story just falls on the page. I don’t plan what each character’s secret motives or personalities are. Why should a professional author be any different?

However, something we both must keep in mind is the fact that some stories do require explanations, if only to fully understand the jokes and slang from another era. Alice is one such story.

I discuss annotations and how they impact a story in further detail in my post (the link is below), Do Annotations Ruin a Reader’s Own Discovery Process?

http://aliceproject6.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/do-annotations-ruin-a-readers-own-discovery-process/

Comment by Kristen K




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