Art of Reading

Course No. 2198
Professor Timothy Spurgin, Ph.D.
Lawrence University
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Course No. 2198
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Course Overview

You definitely know how to read. But do you know how to read artfully? Unlike everyday reading, artful reading—the way we read novels and short stories—is less about reading for specific information and more about reading to revel in the literary experience.

It involves recognizing

  • how a story's particular narrative style affects your connection with its characters,
  • why authors choose to hint at meanings instead of just writing them out for you,
  • how the organization of a novel into distinct chapters can affect your engagement with its plot, and much more.

When you approach a work of fiction the way you do an e-mail or report or newspaper, you miss out on all of this. You're not getting everything you should out of the reading experience. Learning the skills and techniques of artful reading can improve your life in many ways.

  • If you're a fiction reader, they can make your first reading of a new novel or short story feel as rewarding as a second or third reading, and they can give you new perspectives on works you already cherish.
  • If you're an aspiring writer, they can help you understand the methods that great writers use to tackle literary concepts—successful methods you can then apply to your own writing.
  • If you're a book club member, they can enliven discussions and provide your group with engaging activities to create even deeper appreciations of the works you're reading.
  • If you're a student, they can improve and enhance the close reading skills essential to success in high school, college, and beyond.

And the best part: These skills are not difficult or unwieldy; rather, they are well within your reach. According to award-winning Professor Timothy Spurgin, who has made a career of enlightening students about the benefits of artful reading, great readers are made, not born.

This idea forms the core of The Art of Reading, Professor Spurgin's entertaining 24-lecture course that brings together concepts and techniques rarely found in a single package. Teaching with an engaging and conversational style, he gives you the knowledge and methods to approach even the most daunting reading experience with increased confidence.

Master the Fundamentals of Fiction

An artful reading experience relies on a concrete grasp of the basic elements of fiction, and The Art of Reading is a great way to master them. Throughout the first half of the course, you learn the definitions and characteristics of terms such as authorship, master plot, theme, genre, and metafiction.

While some of these nuts-and-bolts concepts may be familiar to you, Professor Spurgin examines them from multiple angles, revealing hidden meanings that can escape even experienced readers. For example:

  • How many types of realism are there?
  • What are the differences between a work's plot and its story?
  • How can you spot ambiguity in a passage and not confuse it with irony?

Professor Spurgin's answers to these and other hazy questions about the fundamentals of fiction are easily understandable and never bogged down in complicated literary theory. In some instances, he emphasizes a particular element's purposes, strengths, and weaknesses through exercises in which you mentally "rewrite" passages by iconic writers. One intriguing exercise asks you how Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" would read if it were narrated in the third person instead of the first person.

Discover the Artful Reader's Toolbox

Central to Professor Spurgin's lectures are the practical tips and techniques designed to maximize your effectiveness as an artful reader. The Art of Reading gives you a veritable toolbox that you'll find essential to mining everything you need from a novel or short story.

Here is a sample of Professor Spurgin's great suggestions for more artful reading:

  • Holding an initial reading session: Getting into a book is like getting acquainted with another person, so it's important to make your first reading session a fairly long one—between one hour and 90 minutes. This will give you enough time to become familiar with the author's writing style and the characters. Even if you can't return to the book for days, when you do you'll still be returning to something familiar.
  • "Pre-reading": Instead of diving headfirst into a new work, leaf through it and explore its organization and structure. Are there chapters, parts, volumes? What might these divisions say about the possible direction of the work? This technique will help make even the lengthiest novel seem less daunting.
  • Constantly asking questions: Make a point to ask yourself questions about what you're reading, such as the motivations of its characters or the potential outcomes of an event. If you keep brief notes about various possibilities as you continue reading, you'll feel more deeply involved with the characters and their stories.

And these are just a few suggestions! You'll also learn insights into how to contribute to book club discussions, choose the right translation, notice the "beats" in a particular scene, decipher what characters aren't saying in their dialogue, and more.

Learn through Literary "Case Studies"

Throughout the lectures, Professor Spurgin uses a host of literary "case studies" to refine and elaborate on the concepts of artful reading. Unlike other literature-themed courses, The Art of Reading focuses less on a literary analysis of works like A Christmas Carol, Jane Eyre, and The Age of Innocence and more on how artful readers can use their skills to recognize why these works are so significant.

Professor Spurgin also uses literary examples to show how you can finally approach works that, in the past, might have seemed intimidating. He shows you how to read and understand Modernist literature (As I Lay Dying), epic novels (War and Peace), and even the differences between reading a novel and a short story.

In today's busy world, it can be difficult to set aside quality time to savor a great work of literature—the kind of novel or short story that readers have cherished for centuries. After taking this course, you'll be able to use Professor Spurgin's suggested tips to get the most out of the valuable time you spend with these and other classic books.

Rediscover the Joy of Reading

Professor Spurgin understands, first and foremost, the sheer joy of reading and just how contagious that joy is. His engaging teaching skills have brought him numerous teaching honors at Lawrence University—and he delivers every lecture of The Art of Reading in this same acclaimed, award-winning style.

At its core, The Art of Reading is not about complicated literary terms and theories. It's about the wonderful feeling of engaging with a novel or short story on all levels and learning how artful readers think about and approach the works they read. Whether you're someone who loves curling up with a good book, a writer who is looking for insights into how to get inside your readers' minds, or a student who wants to contribute to class discussions, there's something for you to find in this course.

What's more, you won't have to comb through shelves of books searching for ways to get more out of your reading. With The Art of Reading, you'll get a comprehensive and concise package that finally brings together all the myriad ways you can make your future reading experiences more engaging and—most important—more enlightening.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Artful Reading and Everyday Reading
    In this introductory lecture, discover the difference between everyday reading (reading to extract information) and artful reading (reading to take pleasure in language). Also, learn how noted author C. S. Lewis defined the two types of readers, and outline the methods you'll use over the next 23 lectures. x
  • 2
    Authors, Real and Implied
    You spend a lot of time with your favorite authors. But what is the difference between a real author and an implied author? Learn the answer to this intriguing question by examining a familiar story, the theories of two literary critics, and personal opinions from two iconic Western writers. x
  • 3
    Narrators—Their Voices and Their Visions
    First- and third-person narrators are the two most common narrators to be found in literature. In this lecture, Professor Spurgin argues the pros and cons of each form and the unique ways they influence your reading experience, using stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne as examples. x
  • 4
    Characters—Beyond Round and Flat
    For most readers, nothing is more important than a story's characters. Here, investigate what makes characters flat (unchanging) or round (dynamic) with an example by Anton Chekov—a master of literary characterization. Then, learn the secret to determining whether a character is worth reading about. x
  • 5
    Descriptions—People, Places, and Things
    Discover an alternative to skipping detailed descriptions in your reading. As stories by John Updike and Flannery O'Connor demonstrate, descriptions not only create vivid impressions, they also provide the potential for new perspectives, deepen your understanding of the characters, and sharpen your interest in the story. x
  • 6
    Minimalists to Maximalists to Lyricists
    What are the two fundamental elements of style? Does the style in which a story is told really make a difference in how it affects you? And which style is the best one to read? Uncover the answers in this engaging look at how writers work—and play—with words. x
  • 7
    Explosive Devices—Irony and Ambiguity
    Professor Spurgin teaches you how to heighten your ability to detect irony and ambiguity in your reading with a look at Katherine Mansfield's classic short story, "Bliss." By understanding the different forms of irony and ambiguity and picking up on their use, you can radically change your opinion on an entire work. x
  • 8
    Reading for the Plot—Five Simple Words
    Plots are what hook us at the beginning of a reading experience and what keep us reading through to the end. Unpack the mechanics of a work's plot—what goes into it, how it can be arranged and presented to the reader, and how to distinguish the plot from the story. x
  • 9
    Master Plots—The Stranger and the Journey
    Continue your explorations of plot with a look at master plots—familiar plots that appear everywhere—and genres. Learn to recognize the difference between the two terms, how they shape your reading experience, and why you can't begin to make sense of a book before placing it in a particular genre. x
  • 10
    The Game Is Afoot—Sherlock Holmes
    In the first of three lectures that take you through the elements of fiction as they appear in classic works, apply your newfound knowledge and skills to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. As you work through various stylistic questions, discover why Holmes is considered both a writer and a reader. x
  • 11
    The Plot Thickens—Scott and Brontë
    Most of the literary examples so far have been short stories, but what happens when you're reading a larger novel such as Sir Walter Scott's or Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre? See how Professor Spurgin's tips and tricks to more artful reading still apply—even when you're faced with hundreds of pages of material. x
  • 12
    The Plot Vanishes—Faulkner and Woolf
    Innovative and experimental, Modernist literature can sometimes be intimidating for first-time—or even seasoned—readers. In this case study of the Modernist masterpieces As I Lay Dying and The Waves, learn how to approach these types of novels with increased confidence. x
  • 13
    Chapters, Patterns, and Rhythms
    Now, turn to one of the smaller units of storytelling: the chapter. Chapters are more than just convenient places to stop reading; they are carefully arranged and organized by the writer. Learn how to tease out these connections with a look at chapters from two very different novels: Great Expectations and My Antonia. x
  • 14
    Scene and Summary, Showing and Telling
    Zoom in on the structure of an individual chapter and learn how to distinguish between its scene and its summary. Learn why these two terms are, in the opinion of Professor Spurgin, the basic building blocks of fiction by seeing them at work in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Disgrace. x
  • 15
    Subtexts, Motives, and Secrets
    Sharpen your ability to understand subtext—the meaning that lies beneath the words and actions of characters in a particular scene. Using Jane Austen's classic novel Persuasion as a case study, develop some techniques for gleaning hidden meaning in the novels you read. x
  • 16
    Dialogue—The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
    Focus on a topic touched on in previous lectures: dialogue. Using examples from classic and contemporary novels, Professor Spurgin shows you how to tell the difference between convincing dialogue and flat dialogue; he also calls attention to the relationship between a literary genre and the style of its dialogue. x
  • 17
    Metafiction—Fiction about Fiction
    Metafiction is, essentially, fiction about fiction; with these particular reading experiences, anything is possible. Learn how to read, make sense of, and—most important—enjoy this complex and demanding genre by examining works by two of its recognized masters: Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino. x
  • 18
    Adaptation—From Fiction to Film
    Tackle the age-old question: Why is the movie never as good as the book? Each medium approaches the act of storytelling in markedly different ways. Using cinematic versions of Heart of Darkness as examples, discover how film adaptations can provide you with a sharper sense of the strengths of their literary sources. x
  • 19
    Realism Times Four
    What do writers and literary critics mean when they talk about "realism"? Unpack the meaning of this writing style, distinguish between the four types of realism, and discover how H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds endows the science fiction conceit of a extraterrestrial invasion with a startling sense of realism. x
  • 20
    Thumbs Up?—Interpretation and Evaluation
    The question of how to interpret a work is one of the thorniest in literary theory. Do artful readers respect the intentions of a text, or do they question its hidden assumptions? Is there a right or wrong way to interpret and evaluate a book? Find out in this lecture. x
  • 21
    A Long Short Story—"Runaway"
    Examine Alice Munro's "Runaway," a short story whose power can be unearthed with the techniques outlined in earlier lectures. By reading this story in an artful manner, you can learn just why it is that Munro and writers like her are so admired and respected by critics and readers. x
  • 22
    A Classic Novel—The Age of Innocence
    In the second of three case studies, turn to Edith Wharton's masterpiece of old New York: The Age of Innocence. Professor Spurgin demonstrates how a close, artful reading of the novel's narrator and its intriguing central character reveal deep insights into the social complexities of late 19th-century New York City. x
  • 23
    A Baggy Monster—War and Peace
    Develop successful reading strategies for those times when you're confronted with a book that runs nearly a thousand pages in length. Case in point: Leo Tolstoy's mammoth Russian masterwork, War and Peace. As you explore familiar issues of artful reading, you also learn how to approach works written in translation. x
  • 24
    Picking Up the Tools
    Conclude the course with this exploration of endings, specifically the closing passages of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Persuasion. What makes for a satisfying conclusion to a reading experience? Also, revisit some of the major benefits of becoming a more artful reader. x

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  • 120-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

Timothy Spurgin

About Your Professor

Timothy Spurgin, Ph.D.
Lawrence University
Dr. Timothy Spurgin is the Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English Literature and Associate Professor of English at Lawrence University, where he has taught for more than 15 years. He received his B.A. at Carleton College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia. A respected and admired lecturer, Professor Spurgin teaches courses on Romanticism, contemporary critical theory, and the...
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Reviews

Art of Reading is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 95.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Dance Between Readers and Writers Outstanding course. This Art of Reading is universal and timely for anyone needing focus for their fast-paced reading lives - primarily for readers but encourages all to slow down and feel how the reader must dance closely with the writer. Professor Spurgin talks with readers and positively encourages a bigger tool bag. My wife and I both have a master's degree and find this course to be, yes it is a quick view on key topics, a compass for further study. For example, his 7th lecture on irony and ambiguity, utilizing K. Mansfield's "Bliss" short story, is masterful and he well-explained free-indirect-discourse that many so-called writing teachers don't touch. Some writing instructors who mention irony would do well to review how well irony dances with ambiguity. We encourage you to go to it and see. Then if you haven't read the past masters he shows us, go to them, ask them for a dance and you'll receive more in return having learned from a variety of masters.
Date published: 2017-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Among the best of the GC presenters After reading the testimonials for professor Spurgin, I can't improve on them; so I will just enthusiastically endorse and echo them! If you already enjoy the subject matter, he will enhance your enjoyment and learning experience.
Date published: 2016-11-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining and instructive, But... I am not sure who the intended audience for this course was. It seemed to be pitched at a high school level or for undereducated adults who approach literature with trepidation. Maybe it was designed for members of book clubs who feel inadequate at their club meetings? The professor had a clear voice and a supremely confident manner, but this was overdone to the point that at times he was almost unbearably condescending. Despite those flaws, I enjoyed the course. It's a nice survey of fundamental concepts for approaching and appreciating quality fiction. Examples were well-chosen and varied, including some well-known American and British novels and short stories as well as some Russian ones. I liked the professor's creative little thought experiments and felt they added interest to his topics. I'd read EM Forster and a few of the other works of criticism he cited, but nevertheless I still learned a few points that will inform my future fiction reading. If you read a lot but never formally took English classes, you may find this course valuable.
Date published: 2016-09-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fine Intro to Literature Course This is exactly the course that ought to be taught to every high school student in the country, or to college freshmen if they missed it in high school. It covers the very basics of reading literature, from figuring out the difference between the author and the narrator, to essential plot analysis (the characteristics of the beginning, middle, and end, a la Aristotle, and the contrast between the story and the plot), to the difference between showing and telling (scene and summary), to a consideration of various components of realism (presentation, content, psychological, and moral), to some very brief and simplistic analysis of works from short stories to "War and Peace" (yes, "War and Peace" in 30 minutes), and much else besides. All of this is important for anyone desiring to appreciate literature - that is, the stuff some pretentious bookstores put in the "literature" as opposed to the "fiction" section. None of it is deep or complex; once the points are made they will often seem obvious. Yet many get through our educational system without ever considering how to appreciate and enjoy reading. It is for these folks that this course is ideal. At the same time, if you have had a few good English lit teachers, in high school or college, you have likely learned most of what is covered here, and the course may not be worth your time or money. Professor Spurgin speaks very well, with excellent voice control and modulation that helps keep your interest, even if it is obvious he's reading from a teleprompter. He is well organized - perhaps too well organized, in that he is constantly telling us what we are going to do and what we have done, far more than is helpful. Also, as another reviewer has noted, he often sounds like he is talking to elementary schoolers, given the level of many of his comments and the unnecessary yet frequent tag questions. You know what I mean, right? Perhaps most disappointing, the discussion of evaluation in lecture 20 was extremely simplistic, and covered only the evaluation of theme, ignoring all of the other components of literature which he has been covering. (As a small aside, I also found his analysis of "Bliss" in lecture 7 to be completely wrong-headed, and his explanation of ambiguity in the same lecture to be, well, ambiguous, if not just wrong. I'd appreciate hearing others' comments on this.) And I agree with others that the Course Guidebook is pitifully short and unhelpful. So - Yes, I do recommend this course, even recommend it highly, for beginning students of literature, at whatever stage of life you may be at. Those with more experience in this area may be disappointed. In any case, enjoy your reading.
Date published: 2016-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Reading and writing ideas Solid course, helpful for readers of all experience levels and even for aspiring (fiction) writers. The course both introduced concepts that were new to me and also gave explicit names and definitions to some of my previous intuitions about reading. The range of topics seemed very appropriate, as was the length of the course for the material. However, for some reason I usually felt ready for the lectures to end about 5-6 minutes before they were finished. Professor Spurgin's descriptions were clearly understandable; he used analogies well to help clarify several of them. As a bonus, I added several of the discussed works to my reading list.
Date published: 2016-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Art of reading An excellent course for anyone from the age of 14 and above. I was pleased to note that I unconsciously already do some of the things he suggested. Although my my reading is very sporadic, when I read books I really ponder over over them a great deal . I usually do the pre read and fifty page test and have often re read the first couple of pages again. Occasionally I have read parts ahead with a difficult book, but not so much for easy reads as I worry it will spoil the story. Perhaps I have been wrong about that. The Lecturer was one of the best I have encountered on the great courses so far, very good explanations and not a boring moment. A very engaging man, and he made me think a little more deeply about reading ,although I will watch the course again and go through it in stages to try out the techniques he suggests. I have only read one of the books on the course, but heard of most of them. 100 years of solitude was a very slow read for me, I had to force myself to get to the end, but it was worth it. Otherwise I have tried some of the authors but not necessarily those books. Martin Chuzzlewit was a good read. I will try war and peace again when I am really feeling up to it. It didn't really occur to me to look at different translations, so that was a good tip. There were some lectures where he pretty much tells all about the book, so be warned, it maybe best to actually read the books before he talks about them in the lectures. This course is worth watching even if you don't plan to use his ideas just because it was fun to listen to. It is a pity he didn't go over any William Burroughs as I would love to know what his take on his style of writing would have been. I enjoyed hearing about different authors that I hadn't heard of, and will try them out at some point. I also found it funny that he thinks Sussex is a thoroughly unremarkable place. I think he could have his own tv show. `More please.
Date published: 2015-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Great course I have purchased many courses from the Great Course Company and this course was by far the best. The content and presentation are excellent. If you wish a course on literary style, characters and how to critique a book this is your course.
Date published: 2015-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from After the course, I am brave enough to try Tolstoy The Art of Reading is a very good course. Professor Spurgin takes you through the lecture topics in such a way as to make some of the most intimidating pieces of literature a little bit more accessible. Some early lectures focus on short stories, which I was inspired to read immediately after each lecture. The short story references are useful in pulling the listener into the course, similar to the way (as Professor Spurgin describes) early chapters of a novel work to pull the reader in and keep him/her engaged. The Stranger comes to town/Hero takes a journey master plot concepts struck a chord with me, and I found the tips about pre-reading especially useful before starting large books. But I think the professor's most useful advice concerns making notes and taking stock as to where you are while you are in the middle of a novel, and making predictions as to what might happen next. The tools and topics discussed will help me read more artfully, and I hope to share these lessons with my daughter, who will likely face challenging reading assignments in school. I would propose one change that might improve the course. Several of the works used to illustrate concepts in this course are from Ancient English literature - well, not really "Ancient" but they might seem so at first glance. While these works are classic and most certainly still relevant, I find them intimidating and somewhat inaccessible. Instead of using Dickens, Austen or Bronte to explain a concept, selecting a more recent literary example might enable the professor to illustrate the same concept in a way that doesn't frighten, intimidate or even repel the listeners/students. Now that I have completed this course, I am going to try to read War and Peace. The lectures of this course have put me in a better position to take it on and make my way through it!
Date published: 2015-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best! I purchased this course because it appeared to be both a reading course and a writing course, and because I majored in English not so long ago. This course, I hoped, would feel like coming home to my alma mater. The course did turn out to be what I hoped for and more. It's one of the best courses I've taken on any subject, anywhere. Professor Spurgin shows how reading as an art can open up new worlds for you in stories and novels, and I daresay some nonfiction (although he doesn't cover nonfiction, I can see how this course may apply to narrative nonfiction). The course left me thinking about works NOT mentioned as well as those Professor Spurgin discusses, and I'm very glad I ordered a full transcript of the lectures, because they sink into my noggin better when I read the transcript after watching the DVD.
Date published: 2014-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Art of Reading Not bad! Useful for both reading critically and writing effectively.
Date published: 2014-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A series of lectures to savour Did I really want a series of lectures on how to read? Surely it's obvious how to read? Haven't I been doing this for more years than I care to think about? I read the course description several times before deciding to take the 'risk' - what a good decision. I found this course eye-opening and it has truly enabled me to read with greater pleasure than ever before. Professor Spurgin has an extremely accessible style and as a UK listener I found no trouble in following his every word #unlike some lecturers#. The examples of literary works and extracts he used in my opinion were very well chosen. This will be one course that I will certainly return to again and I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2014-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Finally, Books Worth Reading I've been reading my whole life but only recently have I started to read actual "literature". I read One Hundred Years of Solitude a few years ago and I was completely floored, shocked and awed. I had no idea a book could reach me in that way, I did not know art could penetrate right to the core of a human being like that. It is hard talking to people about it and about most things I've read since but this professor "gets it". Maybe it's because I'm an engineer and my circle of friends just doesn't enjoy that sort of thing. Well, this is a course I savored for the sheer joy of talking about great books. I loved it and tore through all the lectures.
Date published: 2014-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One on the best. I am a very avid and eclectic reader. This course gives tools, insights and understandings of both relatively easy and difficult literature. I read now with more enjoyment of not only reading literature but also with increased insights to plays and operas.
Date published: 2014-05-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pedantic Professor Spurgin had a fascinating topic. I purchased this course to get more out of reading and improve my creative writing. I, however, found he was excessively concerned with minor details and rules. Rather than coming away with a new understanding and joie de vivre that I had hope to achieve through this course, he left me feeling deflated. All I wanted was to have a good read!
Date published: 2014-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inspiring! In this series of lectures, Professor Timothy Spurgin presents his advice as how to get the most out of reading fiction. A gourmet rather than a glutton, he certainly favours pleasure over quantity and his lectures are truly the antithesis of a speed-reading course! In order to increase appreciation of fictional works, he first discusses in detail notions that tend to be taken for granted: narration, description, dialogue, characters, etc. With the same purpose, he then presents various techniques, including: • pre-reading, i.e. going through the table of contents to check out the structure of a work, the number and length of chapters, etc. • pausing one third of the way into a chapter in order to digest what has been read and ponder as to what may come next; • the 50-page test, i.e. committing yourself to read the first 50 pages of a book before deciding to continue or to give up; • systematically noting the events presented in each chapter and the characters present. As he speaks, Professor Spurgin refers to a wide range of works, by authors as varied as Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf and Italo Calvino. Throughout, Professor Spurgin is very polite, for instance systematically greeting his listeners at the beginning and at the end of each lecture. His enunciation is slow and careful and his soft-spoken tone is such that it is in fact at times underwhelming. Overall, this series of lectures is original and stimulating though only very motivated persons, with much time on their hands, will actually follow most of Professor Spurgin’s suggestions.
Date published: 2014-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Captivating AUDIO DOWNLOAD I got this course despite earlier dismissing it as unnecessary, assuming it would likely be a fussy series of lectures about something I have been doing well (or, so I thought) for decades. After listening to Professor Spurgin’s TC course on ‘The English Novel’, however, I was eager for more by him and followed that up with the ‘Art of Reading’. I am so glad I broke through those assumptions about my abilities and spent 12 useful, absorbing, and entertaining hours with Professor Spurgin. For me, this has been a breakthrough course. Not that I had previously been a failure at reading “serious” literature, but I had not been going about it “artfully” enough, had not been patient and sensitive enough to fully appreciate what the author had created. Professor Spurgin goes right to the heart of the matter in distinguishing artful reading from everyday reading and how important it is for us to take our reading to a higher level. If we go about reading literature in the same direct and often unreflective way in which we read the newspaper and e-mails, we are going to miss out on a great deal in those short stories and novels, both in content and in enjoyment. This was not an entirely new idea for me, and over the years I stumbled on to and/or developed some of the practices advocated by Professor Spurgin. But the great value of this course is how Professor Spurgin brings everything you might need together to become a more artful reader. He does this in a well-crafted series of lectures that incrementally takes you up the ladder of knowledge and skill, with every lecture enlivened and illustrated with exceptionally good excerpts from a wide range of literature. A side benefit of this course is being introduced to a number of new authors, not only the well-known classic authors but also excellent contemporary ones as well. Though this is a course primarily for readers, it has a great deal in it that would be useful to aspiring fiction writers as well. In fact, at several points in the lectures Professor Spurgin pitches his remarks to them. It is hard for me to believe that I actually enjoyed discussions of such elements of fiction writing as diction, subtexts, character development, dialogue, free indirect discourse (fondly referenced as FID), narrative voices, plots and stories, and summary and scene. But I did. Considering the subjects, these were not the tortured and complicated lectures one might expect. This is because Professor Spurgin related the subject of each lecture to specific works of fiction, from which he quotes often and sometimes at significant length. I was surprised to learn, for instance, that there are two master plots in fiction, the stranger comes to town and hero takes a journey, and that short stories and novels need a destabilizing event that knocks the characters off balance and set the plot in motion. I never really thought about these and a great number of related matters, though I suppose much in this course is no great revelation to literature majors. Professor Spurgin labors throughout to give us what we need to know in order to better appreciate literature. He “…challenge[s] two common misconceptions: first, that smart, sensitive readers are born, not made; and second, that sophistication and intelligence are the sworn enemies of pleasure and delight. From start to finish, it should be clear that the art of reading can be taught—and that mastering this art is both exciting and rewarding” (Course Guidebook, Page 1). Among the many easy practices that Professor Spurgin recommends (and elaborates upon in the lectures) are pre-reading; giving the book a 50 page test before rejecting it; stopping a third of the way through “…to take stock, formulate questions, and make predictions… think about the characters and plot…[and] take time to reread the first chapter to see if they seem different this time…[as well as] close reading, which is looking at a passage and thinking about the language ” (Page 79). There’s a great deal more, but Professor Spurgin cautions against trying to apply all the tools and practices to every book, “Instead, let yourself play it by ear when deciding what to focus on” (Page 78). There are significant depths to this course, as well, and it could have an impact on you as you develop into an artful reader. As Professor Spurgin notes, “In time, this sort of reading inevitably forces you to confront yourself. You see that you have underestimated a character in a story by Chekhov, or Mansfield, or O’Connor—and you ask yourself how you let that happen. What set of prejudices or presuppositions was operating there? What made you feel superior to that sort of person? What made you so sure that your own life was so different?” (Page 78). Moreover, there are “… practical benefits to this sort of reading. It sensitizes you to language and makes you more alert to verbal nuance and texture. This in turn can feed back into your own writing. It inevitably forces you to confront yourself. Finally, it helps you to accept yourself” (Page 80-81). I do not want to go too far in describing the course content, and hopefully what I have written provides sufficient hints of scope and depth. I should note, however, that not only is Professor Spurgin a top-notch lecturer, but he is also quite personable and regularly anticipates questions. He makes sure that the lectures have some fun and interesting content. For instance, in lecture six on style, Professor Spurgin demonstrates how Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald might handle writing about “feeding the dog” (a laugh out loud moment for me), and in lecture eighteen he shows why film adaptations of literature often do not work out well, using the example of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (the TV version falling far short, while the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’ comes surprisingly close to the impact of Conrad’s story). In the last lecture he has great suggestions for book club participants, and even book-related games for families and friends. What more could you want in a course on reading and writing? I highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2013-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you love reading, you'll love this course Not only did this course improve my approach to reading, I discovered many great authors and books that I otherwise might never have read. Have shared some of those selections with my book club and the members have been very pleased. They keep asking, "WHERE did you ever learn about that book?"
Date published: 2013-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very happy with this one I am not done with the course yet but I am very much enjoying it. My son is using it as part of his 11th grade curriculum (homeschool) and I am watching it with him. I am getting as much out of it as he is.
Date published: 2013-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deepens your enjoyment of reading I enjoyed this entire course. Timothy Spurgin has an engaging manner. As a result of his lectures, I sought out and read some of the books he discussed.
Date published: 2013-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course Yet I loved this course -- the professor is engaging, not boring. I feel like I'm having a great conversation with someone who truly understands literature. He keeps it interesting, even if you haven't read the material he's discussing. What a great course.
Date published: 2013-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A map and a toolbox DVD review. If you are seriously considering Dr. Spurgin's THE ART OF READING, you probably have been reading for ages, and wonder whether ART can improve your comprehension. Can it make reading more fun? Long story short, it depends what you like to read. • Non-fiction readers will gain the least because Spurgin is concerned with narrative fiction. But "least" doesn't mean nothing. Many "give-me-the-facts-only-the-facts" readers do not realise how many biographies, court cases, celebrity news, newspaper accounts of abstract trends, etc. make use of fiction storytelling rules. Why? Because readers want to be moved. And they remember new information better that way. ART will sensitize you to that aspect if you wish. • Lovers of pop literature will gain more. Bestsellers are popular, however, because they please without requiring much effort. They surprise while conforming to beloved genre conventions well-understood by target audiences. Do you really need Spurgin to grasp fantasy novels or romances? No. But ART will make you more conscious of style, master plots and narrative voices, the tricks of the writer's trade. And that will increase your appreciation. • People interested in literary fiction, be it the classic variety (ex. Moby Dick) or something modern (Updike or Faulkner for example) are the real target of this course. If I limit myself to this last group, the TTC clients most likely to benefit from ART are those who might have enjoyed specific literary novels, but worry that going further requires knowledge of classic literature they don't have time to read. What Spurgin offers is a toolbox of ideas to get around that. How does point of view affect the story? What are genre conventions? How can I get a quick overview, to decide whether going further is worthwhile? And so on. If you belong to a book club to motivate you further, ART offers you everything you need to analyse your reactions in a way that you can share. Those of you interested in painting may be familiar with TTC's HOW TO LOOK AT AND UNDERSTAND GREAT ART. Dr. Spurgin's course does for literary fiction what GREAT ART does for the visual arts: provide context and a vocabulary to enlarge your sensitivities. On a final note, Spurgin's THE ART OF READING complements very well the other TTC courses concerned with storytelling: WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION and THE ART OF STORYTELLING. Would-be writers among you will find that ART is a great conceptual starting point when analysing the authors you seek to emulate. PRESENTATION is fine. SPURGIN is a very clear and well-organized speaker. Every lecture follows the "overview - presentation - recap" model. Audio-only versions should be fine. Strongly recommended.
Date published: 2012-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Information and Delivery I loved every minute of this course, and it has improved my close reading skills 100 fold. I notice so much more now when I read. Things I would glance over or hurry past in my previous reading now make me pause and question their purpose. My favorite parts were actually listening to Timothy Spurgin read excerpts from classic books. He made Twain and Poe come alive in his readings.
Date published: 2012-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Artfully taught I was pleasantly surprised at how real Prof. Spurgin was, and how artfully he taught this course. I admit to a bias against literature analysis, and endless literature critiquing. However, this course proved me wrong. The prof. begins with an explanation of the basics, which weren't new information, but they were presented alongside specific pieces of literature that were good & interesting examples, and the pieces were always presented as exciting in some way, rather than the typical cutting apart that I am used to hearing. Then the prof. moved on to new techniques that I hadn't explored, such as metafiction. He also had a nice method of first exploring a technique on a short work, and then gradually moving to full-length works. And he wasn't even afraid to discuss the fact that some books are immense and feel unapproachable. Very well taught.
Date published: 2012-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Indispensable for this English Major Dr. Spurgin's 24-lecture series on "The Art of Reading" is everything I could have hoped for and more. I am an English major enrolled in an external degree program, and I have genuinely struggled with my college's lack of actual teaching. Dr. Spurgin is the professor I wished I had had many years ago. He explains critical reading in such detail that I am still in amazement. Yet, he never talks down to us "his students," and he never leaves us shaking our heads in confusion. He strikes a wonderful balance in his teaching style. I cannot recommend this series enough - especially to English majors in need of a wise and caring professor! My only regret is that I did not find Dr. Spurgin's series sooner.
Date published: 2012-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Opened up new worlds to me In almost 20 years of TC courses, I was astonished to really be breaking some new ground here. While much of the course seems simple, it really wasn't. For example, if you don't know what free indirect discourse is, you need this course. I never got that in college so the focus on writing styles was very useful to me. I will forever be grateful to the instructor for getting me (finally) into Faulkner and some other writers that had eluded me. The teachers style is to read a written lecture, but he makes many attempts to keepthe lecture from sounding stale. Don't let the many comments by reviewers dissuade you from a lecture series that has much to offer.
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical and Beneficial I can't recommend this excellent course highly enough. The course content is thorough, supplemented by actual literary examples, and clearly explained by Professor Spurgin. Dr. Spurgin is easily one of the most interesting lecturers that I've ever had the pleasure to listen to. One could only wish that all university level literature courses were this useful and enjoyable.
Date published: 2012-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Introduction to Artful Reading I was a chemistry major, not an English major. However, I love to read. This 24 lecture course will be helpful for those (like me) who have not yet mastered the art of reading. Professor Spurgin provides a nice general overview of the methods of the artful reader. He discusses aspects of authors, narrators, characters, descriptions, plots, chapters, scene and summary, subtexts, and dialogue. Metafiction, adaptation, and realism get their own lecture and discussion. He explores short stories, full length novels and really, really long novels. I completed this course a better reader with a willingness to learn more through further exploration of written texts on the topic by Booth, CS Lewis, Forster, and Wood noted in the course bibliography. Professor Spurgin also introduced a number of writers with whom I was unfamiliar and would love to read. Borges, Calvino, Coetzee, Lahiri, Munro, and Zadie Smith were among the great writers whom I had not previously sampled. This course may not provide much new knowledge for experienced, previously trained, artful readers. But for me, any new tips are always welcome.
Date published: 2012-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful overview For those like me who have never studied literature to any serious degree-other than at school until 16-this is a superb introduction to the subject. Professor Spurgin has soothing and reassuring style that allows you to systematically develop a set of tools with which to more deeply appreciate the novel/short prose genre. Anyone embarking on the writing of a work of fiction would also be well advised to listen to the course as the techniques (of the use of dialogue, scene and summary and character development)are really presented in a user friendly manner. I fully intend to purchase the Professor's course on the English Novel. For those that have perhaps studied literature at higher levels at university etc then this may not be the course for you. But for those who want to savour the depth of appreciating great fiction then this is a wonderful course.
Date published: 2012-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course for appreciation of reading This is my first course of The Great Courses, and I must say that I loved watching it. Dr. Spurgin is great! He is very knowledgeable and the course takes you into the deeper parts of reading. Some people (my sister included) say his voice sounds a bit boring or dull, but I must not see it. In fact, I think it would be all the better because there are no undertones to his beliefs, he simply says what he likes and why. He delivers this course with a hint of fascination in his voice and you can really tell he loves his books. The course taught some things that I already knew or was slightly familiar with, and a lot that I didn't know. Many lectures contain short passages that he reads aloud and then analyzes through questioning. It really helped me appreciate any type of writing and question the text. Another thing I'd like to say is that this course focuses on reading as an art, so it teaches you how to appreciate things involved in writing, such as noticing the style or enjoying each word on the page. I compare this to appreciating music or visual art. Some people have their own conceptions of it, but we can all get a deeper understanding if we know what questions to ask and to fully immerse ourselves in that art.
Date published: 2012-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Art of Reading Like A Professor I loved this course - even though it was not what I expected. I expected to learn how to read e.g. how to read nonfiction, how to speedread, how to slowread, how to choose what to read, how to decide whether to "read" audiobooks or standard books, how to read in the bathtub, etc. etc. This course teaches very little about how to read. It is, however, the best course about the elements of fiction that I have ever taken. The professor is clear and engaging and does an exceptional job of mixing abstract concepts with concrete examples. This course will not teach you how to read better - but will definitely teach you how to better appreciate what you read.
Date published: 2012-02-16
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