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The newbie’s guide to reading great Western literature
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The newbie’s guide to reading great Western literature

You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate a great story, but if you’re looking to grasp great literature, here’s how to go about it

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For a newbie, taking the first plunge into the ocean of what is considered good or great literature can be daunting. There are a variety of language styles to acclimate to, literary traditions to comprehend, and socio-political contexts to be aware of before you can fully appreciate the greatest works of literature. Some books can be tough to crack, but if you are determined and assiduous there are ways in which you can get ahead on your heavy reading.

Here are some hacks.

Read the abridged versions of classic books

This is the easiest way to acquaint yourself with the storyline, the characters and the progression of the plot. Once you have a strong grasp of the intent of the book, you will be better able to go back and start reading the original text, taking in all the subtleties of the language, style and tone, without having to compromise on losing track of the story.

Here are some you could check out:

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Also read: These popular children’s books are also timeless classics

Read modern translations of ancient texts

Books like Dante’s Inferno or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are considered to be among the world’s best literary masterpieces. Some of the most renowned works of literature go as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex or Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. These books are impossible to read for someone who hasn’t studied the intricacies of the ancient languages, but even some of the more academic translations don’t bring the texts down to the layman’s level. Modern translations keep the average reader in mind, and make these powerful texts available to a wider audience.

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Read the book along with a study guide

A lot of books, especially those that are taught in schools, come with a guide, either within the book itself or as an external addition. For instance, many modern editions of Shakespeare’s works, come with a short summary alongside each verse, either offering a definition of the references—some of which may be outdated and hence, not very easy to understand—or breaking down the verse completely to explain the basic intent of the passage. Guides can make even the most challenging books easy to read, and give you insights into the book that make the experience of reading all the more rich.

Here are some guides to reading and understanding the works of Shakespeare:

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Read through Top 100 lists for ideas on where to start

Sometimes it can be tough knowing where to even begin. Browsing through an online bookstore can overwhelm you completely, and you’re not sure whether you want to pick up the more tried and tested Wuthering Heights first or go straight for the daunting Ulysses. Going through lists of what other readers consider to be the top 10, 50, 100 or even 1000 must-reads can give you a good idea of where to take the first bite. Reading reviews online can also give you a sense of whether the book is something you would personally enjoy.

Read with a friend or start a book club

Having a group of people to discuss your books with makes the process a lot more engaging, and could offer you a different perspective that helps you appreciate the book all the more. There’s nothing like sitting down with a group of friends and some chai and biscuits, and discussing whether or not Hamlet was truly insane, or how well Vonnegut was able to use time travel as a metaphor for mental illness in Slaughterhouse Five. Start a book club or simply find a buddy with whom you can share your journey into the literary wilderness. There’s nothing that will ever be as exciting as discovering a new world with a good friend!

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