While reading may come naturally to you, taking up literature and studying prose and poetry as a subject may not be everyone's cup of tea.
Many avid readers might question whether it's worth studying literature full time. The process requires you to think critically; plus, it's a big commitment.
Literature courses involve analyzing literary pieces, including novels, poems, and plays. But despite how tedious it sounds, it remains a popular choice as a major.
What Does Studying Literature Entail?
A common misconception regarding studying literature is that it doesn't lead to a job, or only those who want to become novelists should opt for it.
Ironically, the number of people who become novelists after studying literature is relatively low. Moreover, literature courses are not meant to primarily develop the skills required for writing a piece of literary fiction.
Most literature courses are geared towards analyzing important prose, novels, poetry, or articles rather than creating a new one.
If the latter option seems to be your purpose, you'd be more suited for a creative writing course that trains students to improve their writing skills.
The study of literature goes back generations, with the Iliad and Odyssey dating back to the classical Greek era. The oldest piece of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which closely resembles the account of Noah's Great Flood, dates back to 2100 BC.
Historically, studying literature in medieval and Renaissance-era Europe entailed reading the classical languages of Greek and Latin.
It was only in the 19th century that reading literature in modern languages became an academic discipline in major universities.
Although, until the early 20th century, it was still considered unrefined and colloquial for a literature class to study works written in modern languages instead of Classics or Liberal Arts.
However, the subject took on a new meaning in the British colonial empire, where it was seen as a way of imbibing colonial values among the local community's elite.
This phenomenon gave birth to post-colonial literature, as writers like Bapsi Sidhwa, V.S Naipaul, and Wole Soyinka began to use literature and the English language to embrace their nativist roots.
Moreover, since the 1980s, most literature courses have started veering away from a syllabus comprising classical literature like Shakespeare and Chaucer and incorporating political pieces.
This change was meant to help students develop a broader set of literary skills and introduce them to a more varied study, including history and philosophy.
Some American colleges offer literature under the combined title of 'English Language and Literature' to delve into the nuances of language, literary tropes, and rhetorical devices.
Others may diversify their courses and include journalistic, legal, and political pieces as part of their study material. For instance, you may find yourself studying JFK's election speeches instead of Ernest Hemingway.
Literature forms a vibrant field of study at most major universities, centered on a few core literary pieces, which students must read, analyze and assess throughout their semester.
While you may have been an avid reader throughout your life, a literature course will require you to break down and analyze the study material. Something you aren't used to if you read as a hobby.
How Is Studying Literature Different From Reading As A Hobby?
It's natural to assume your aptitude lies towards literature if you've been a life-long reader.
However, there's a world of difference between reading for fun and studying literature as a course. Read on as we elaborate:
The Social Aspect
If you've been an avid reader and you're expecting literature to be a cakewalk, know that it isn't. The class environment will have you discuss literary tropes like never before.
Many readers are introverts who live inside their heads, but you will be expected to contribute vigorously in debates and discussions when you sign up for a literature class.
A large part of your literature class will mix seminars with lectures and ask students to counter-argue while collectively analyzing different aspects of a piece.
Therefore, if public speaking is not one of your strong suits, you will find it hard to let loose in a literature class.
Removing Your Personal Bias
Most professors and exam criteria will expect you to speak objectively when dissecting literary pieces.
On the other hand, when you're reading a fictional book by yourself, you have the full liberty to approach the narrative however you want, even applying your own bias to it.
Yet, at the same time, professors will encourage you to put forth your original view. If everyone is bringing forward the same cookie-cutter narrative, the class will become one-dimensional.
Your opinion should come from your analysis and not be influenced by a third-party source, such as a critic. Therefore, you will be expected to put away your personal biases or narratives when analyzing a piece.
More Intensive Study
When reading for fun, you have the liberty to choose your own pace. You can finish an entire book in one night or at a snail's pace, depending on how much you like it.
However, when you enroll in a literature class, you will have to follow a schedule and read accordingly. And we're not just talking about it during the class. Even after class, you might be expected to read a passage or two as homework.
While reading as a hobby, you have the freedom to the genre, book, and author. But, in your literature class, you will be assigned several texts, expected to finish within a set schedule.
And if you're studying on a module basis, you will be expected to spend an average of seven to eight hours per week on one module. For a beginner, this can be overwhelming, but you will pick up the pace with time.
The most significant difference between reading as a hobby and studying literature happens to be the testing portion. You will be judged for your understanding intermittently and at the end of each piece.
This pressure to perform in an examination can be daunting for someone just reading for fun!
Following Set Literary Formats
The difference between reading for leisure and studying literature can be equated to the difference between cycling for relaxation and pedaling the Tour De France; they are worlds apart.
Therefore, studying literature requires you to follow specific formats that you would not when reading for leisure.
Firstly, plagiarism is strictly unacceptable when writing a term paper for your literature class, and even the slightest bit of copying can be grounds for a low grade or penalization.
How does this relate to reading?
When reading, we're not following any format, and it's routine to quote excerpts verbatim. However, literature courses have strict rules as to when students can quote from the literary piece.
Referencing is another issue that's bound to catch you off guard if you haven't studied literature before. Each literature course will have its prescribed format of referencing, and failing to do so can result in penalties in the form of mark deductions.
Colleges will often teach students how to reference and cite professional publications when writing summaries, exams, or papers. This class will be independent of your literature class.
Students will also be required to research and provide bibliographies to indicate the extra reading they have done.
Studying Literature With Superprof
Are you looking forward to studying literature as a subject? In that case, the best place for you to find a tutor is Superprof.
With Superprof, you can choose a private tutor near you and set classes according to your schedule and learning capacity.
As studying literature requires students to exude a superior analytical level, Superprof's expert tutors will help you maintain an unbiased train of thought.