Art of Reading

Course No. 2198
Professor Timothy Spurgin, Ph.D.
Lawrence University
Share This Course
4.4 out of 5
97 Reviews
85% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 2198
Streaming Included Free

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.

Hide Full Description
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

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Art of Reading is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 97.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical and intellectually stimulating Ooh, baby! This was an excellent course and I’m so glad I finally got it. I just wish I had gotten the video. For me it’s another one of those courses you can hear multiple times, not get bored, and learn something new each and every time. In fact, I listened to several lectures twice already. However, judging from others’ reviews, clearly it’s not for everyone. In my case, it sure did sit well with me and I listened to a couple of lectures per day. Unlike some other literature courses, the purpose of this one is not to give an overview or an analysis of a novel or writer. Instead, its focus is on providing practical tools for being an insightful and artful reader. To make the lessons more concrete, Professor Spurgin illustrates with quite a few novels and short stories. Thus, one of the benefits is being exposed to a number of books you may not have read but should add to your list. If you ask me, these tools or techniques are cumulative and need to become an unconscious practice used at appropriate moments while reading. How many times have you read a book and blown through it from beginning to end? How often do you really read a book by reflecting on round and flat characters, making predictions, analyzing dialogue and plot, contemplating subtext, etc? Complaints? First, the Guidebook being a super slim summary is a bit of a letdown. Secondly, Professor Spurgin does indeed coach artful reading from the vantage point that many of us are reluctant readers who might be put off by War and Peace and instead prefer to breeze through the Divinci Code. That I could overlook.
Date published: 2012-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such a help for future reading I wish I had this course years ago. I am a math/computer major who loves to read, but never had much training in the art. Now I will get so much more out of mu future reads. I belong to 3 different book groups and should be able to contribute much more intelligently because of this course.
Date published: 2012-01-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Informative, but dull. There was a goodly amount of information presented in this course. However, the professor's dry style of presentation made for a difficult slog through these lectures. My 8th grader, who is an enthusiastic and prolific writer and reader, had trouble staying awake during these lectures and remembered little of what she heard. I had the same experience.
Date published: 2012-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you want to start writing... ...then my listening to another review here and taking its advice really hit the mark! This course is an extremely detailed production into how a novel is structured and why. You will read differently and even watch movies differently and catch phrases you would have possibly passed by as mere dialogue, only to see why the words/situations were placed where they were. I have listened to the audio course I purchased, as well as followed with the transcript, three times now. Every time you get a little more from the information provided. The professor's delivery is outstanding as is his content. This will change the way you read and if you are thinking of writing, open your mind as to why some books become classics. I'd give it 10 stars if I could and I say that having about 15 Great Courses productions. This is one of the very bests in my humble opinion!
Date published: 2011-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you never had a good English class, get this I never liked English much, and I realized recently that it was because I rarely had a good English teacher. Often, my teachers would just go around asking, "So what did you think about the book?" This course contains everything I should have learned during school, and Spurgin explains it very well. If you've had good English teachers before, none of this is likely to be new to you, but to me, it was a revelation. This series not only helped improve my reading skills but also my fiction writing ones as well. I'd like to address some criticism this series has received. Some people didn't like his style, and I can see why. I had the audio version, and he's not necessarily the most lively/engaging voice talent. Still, he is well organized and speaks clearly, really the two most important things. I think that Lectures 1-20 are outstanding, but 21-23 somehow lose their way. Perhaps they are too ambitious, too grand in scope. 24 is a good concluding recap. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who disliked English for lack of good teachers and also to aspiring writers. Give it a chance. It even made me want to reread the old classics.
Date published: 2011-12-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Should Be 6 Lectures, Not 24 There were a few interesting ideas and recommended works in this series, but not enough to justify 24 lectures. If you read a fair amount, there is little here that you haven't thought of on your own or practiced in school at some point. Most of the content seemed more suited to a 9th or 10th grader who was just starting to read for pleasure. In addition, I was distracted by lecturer's overuse of the phrase "By now, I hope you'll agree..." This is one of the least intellectually demanding or stimulating courses I've purchased from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2011-11-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Unlike most of the Great Courses, those that primarily impart knowledge, understanding and "appreciation", this course is a "skills" course, one that along with those other objectives aims to teach us to "do" something, that is, to enable us to read ably and artfully. I think maybe because it is easier to know than to do, this course may not be for everyone. For maximum benefit sunstantial interactive application is required, and over a long time. I found the first two-thirds of the course a very good review of basic concepts and some enlightening subleties. The last third was at times rather tedious and tough trucking. Professor Spurgin seemed to be trying to cram in too much, attempting to review large amounts of literary work in too short a time. That can wear you out. A side and complementary benefit, however - at least for me - was that this course gives some useful insights for writers as well. I see some reviewers have noted that, some positively, some negatively. Professor Spurgin has a lively, engaging manner that I enjoyed and has obviously taught this material often. (One aside: I've noticed this and other lecturers often glancing quickly toward the upper left-hand of the screen. If toward a clock, maybe a clock on the cameras would be a remedy.)
Date published: 2011-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really about writing, and the process As my title states, this course really sets up the steps, and architecture that a writer would use to write a novel. My impression is that this was mixed together and reworked to appeal to a broader audience (readers), but to me, that doesn't make it less useful. First, I am an aspiring writer, and this course was great for that. Second, it does help to know in some cases how writers construct their scenes through dialog and summary. It's sort of like getting a general, behind the scenes look at how writers construct their works. For me, that is very useful, but for a casual reader, that may or not be relevant to their enjoyment of the novel.
Date published: 2011-10-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not what I had hoped for I may have rated this course a bit too low, but I have to admit it got the best of me. I couldn't bring myself to watch the final few lectures. Several weeks have now passed, and I am hard pressed to remember anything of real value I learned in it. Checking out the number of pages and chapters? Pre-reading? Making a list of the main characters (how does one do that without reading the book)? Comparing chapter sizes? Not valuable for me. OK. Giving any book at least 50 pages to get its hooks into you is a good idea. Thinking about what the characters themselves might be thinking and keeping to themselves, recognizing their perspectives, noticing the voice the author uses to tell the story (sometimes even different voices for different characters), and of course appreciating the use of language by the author, MAY add to the enjoyment of reading something, but so much of it seems that it might have been boiled down into a magazine article with an attached bibliography. And spending a lot of time doing that "appreciating" can actually decrease one's enjoyment. An art of reading that Prof. Spurgin didn't mention was that of falling deep into the book, buying its leaps of faith and contradictions to the factual universe, suspending one's disbelief. Spend too much effort at noticing how an author uses coincidence to move his story (or is it "plot"?) along, and you might decide that the coincidences are just too much to believe in what is supposed be a realistic novel. Pay too much attention to the form of the book and one can miss its essence. With a beautifully presented meal on a beautiful piece of china, the point is to enhance your enjoyment of the food. If your mind notices that your eye has seen the beauty before you, that is almost overkill, it could be distracting; if your eye sees but your reaction is unconscious, that is the effect the chef wants. Some of the details, the writer's techniques, that Spurgin talks about are used to draw you into the heart and soul of the book--you are not supposed to notice them. There were many good suggestions for future reading projects; that was definitely a plus. And I figured out that while I might get some pleasure from reading "Heart of Darkness," it probably wouldn't be worth the effort. Sort of like this course. As others have said, I thought this course might be more useful to prospective writers than to readers.
Date published: 2011-09-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Long This is an important course but the few take home messages (that are indeed valuable) could have been presented as completely in far fewer lectures. I basically took home the message "read and interpret the written words themselves and don't get bogged down with trying to uncover hidden meanings". Another problem with the course is the assumption by the professor that I have time to re-read a book. As mush as I would love to, I think most readers want to know how to get the most out of a book with one reading only due to time constraints. Finally, I also wished that theories (post modernism, formalism, etc) would have been covered more thoroughly, if they were covered at all. In any case, I think this is a valuable course but it's too long. The salient points of the lecture could have been easily covered in half the time.
Date published: 2011-08-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Split on this one If you read through many of the reviews, there appear to be two schools of thought on this course. On one hand, many aspiring writers really enjoy this course, and for good reasons. There is much to like about Dr. Spurgin's breakdown of fact, I can't think of any course I've ever taken that breaks down literary analysis into its functional components; almost all university courses I've come across are based on genre. It's obvious to see the utility in a course like this if you've got a great idea for a novel or short story. That being said, again from the budding writer's standpoint, there isn't enough here to warrant a recommendation. I really enjoyed the lectures on characterization, plot, dialogue, etc., and the examples given are all fantastic reads (Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner, Woolf), with "The Da Vinci Code" serving as the exception proving the rule. However,many of the lectures on such topics so critical to writers-dialogue, characters, description-are far too complicated to be compressed into 30 minutes, and deserve as thorough a treatment as plot. On the flipside, there are reviews from non-writers that are very mixed on this course, and I can see why as well. Dr. Spurgin's presentation is probably love-it-or-hate-it. His manner of speaking (and dare I say it...the bow-tie) make him almost come off as the cliche of an English professor. As someone who's not an artsy type, my thoughts upon hearing him in the first lecture made me think 'Help, I don't belong here!' Nevertheless, the man's thoughtful and passionate approach to literature eventually won me over, but prospective buyers should prepare themselves. Furthermore, if this were strictly a course dedicated to reading, I would have liked to have seen Dr. Spurgin go into greater depth for each of his chosen authors; many of these works have a unique flavor to them, yet the course barely scratches the surface in some instances. In the end, I would probably say the course isn't sure of what it wants to be, and that's why I'm torn on how to rate it. If I were to recommend changes, it would either be: 1. Limit each lecture to one great work of literary fiction, rather than two, but keeping the same pattern of analysis -or- 2. Revamp it into something like "The Art of Fiction" with an intended audience of writers, going into greater depth on the finer points of constructing an engaging novel or short story. Such a set would make a wonderful companion to the "Building Great Sentences" course, which handles the technical aspects of writing masterfully.
Date published: 2011-07-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Am I Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader? There was some good info in this lecture series, but my main complaint is that I felt the professor was very patronizing and addressed the audience as though we were ... well, fifth-graders. Some of the points were helpful, but mainly as the perspectives pertain to a person who wants to WRITE, not so much to a person who just enjoys reading.
Date published: 2011-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Introduction to Introduction As an undergraduate, I struggled through the necessary literature courses. These courses were often just the instructor reading line after line of text, while we were encouraged to under line the text being read (since we would be tested on that material) After listening to Dr. Spurgin's course, THIS is what I should have had in college. He gives his audience lots of practical, 'take-home' messages that can be applied to a wide range of situations encountered in reading fiction. I would say that the biggest tools given are the ability to *ask questions as we read *know wich ones to ask. They are questions meant to stimulate our reading experience as we continue our reading. This questioning process, if applied seriously, can help one to get less 'bogged-down' when reading a challenging work. These are my major likes about the course: 1) The professor is very enthusiastic about his work. He has a good tone of voice that is easy to listen to. It is very clear to understand the points that he is emphasizing. 2) His examples are well chosen. I learned a lot from works that I was already somewhat familiar, and challenged to try new works that I had little prior interest in, or perhaps never even heard of before. 3) Professor Spurgin is always reviewing; His lecture outlines given at the beginning of the lecture are very easy to follow. Like all great TTC professors, he: tells you what he is going to tell you, then he tells you, then towards the end of each session, he recaps by telling you what he has told you. 4) This professor verbalizes so very well many concepts that prior teachers attempted to cover, but were unable to properly convey to their students (i.e. de-stabilizing events, use of FID(free-indirect-discourse) concepts of 'stranger comes to town, hero takes a journey, etc. 5) The use towards the end of the course in reviewing all the many tools that have been presented. The video visuals given in the DVD course are great, and help those that wish to put the machine on pause to take written notes. The only really negative thing I can say is that the course book is far TOO general. I have also taken Professor Spurgin's earlier TTC course on The English Novel; That course book is written in the older outlined form, and for the serious learner, it cannot be beat. The book for the reading course is really a big joke, in my humble opinion. There is more that is NOT covered in the book than is actually given to be of any real aid in learning. The TTC would be better off in not giving ANY written guide at all, than to put out what they are presently putting out for this course. With that being said, if one is looking for information to enhance ones' reading, to find material that is not given in the tradional Intro Lit 101 course, this is the course for you. Thank you TTC and Dr. Spurgin!! Also, if one wants to be a fiction writer, this course is much more practical in my opinion, than Dr. Landon's course on Writing Great Sentences.
Date published: 2011-05-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A mixed blessing The professor of this course obviously loves his subject, and I find the material itself interesting and helpful. Unfortunately, his approach is difficult to listen to. He speaks with odd pauses, emphasis on unexpected words, and when he reads the examples, it's as if he's hammering the words into your head. Each phrase is read slowly as a separate, disjointed segment, as opposed to a part of a full sentence. I feel as if he views his listener as a bit slow. How can one be expected to see the romantic flow of a sentence when it's read this way? I also feel that some of the examples and interpretations of them are totally inaccurate. In his analysis of "Bliss", he reads into the beginning text of the story wildly imaginitive interpretations which aren't in any way implied at that point of the story. He may be absolutely correct in these interpretations, but I certainly couldn't agree. This is a basic level course for those who haven't taken much formal study of literature, which applies to me. If that applies to you, and you think you can sit through the ponderous presentation, you will enjoy the material. If presentation is extremely important, do not purchase this course.
Date published: 2011-03-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poorest course ever Having taken TC courses for over 8 years and over 30 courses, I have to admit I couldn't believe how terrible this was. It is far worse than anything I could have imagined TC would have offered. I went through the whole thing having read reviews, looking for something that wasn't stupid, condescending or obvious that the prof might offer and there was nothing. To be advised to pre-read a book and notice how many pages chapters have and if the chapters have titles or numbers is something you might tell a reading class in elementary school. To be constantly advised that if you do this you can take on the "really big books" is even worse than condescending. Save your money.
Date published: 2011-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I can once again get more out of reading. While I had studied literature while at university I have, over the years, forgotten the value of spending enough time with any piece of fiction to extract the true worth. Tim Spurgeon does a great job guiding you toward this goal, either as a first time explorer or one that's just rusty (like myself). His choice of reading material also spurred me to revisit some forgotten classics and discover some new ones. I have seen results already, although I have completed but half the lessons. He has showed me that an investment of time and thought will repay the reader many-fold. My only wish is to have a bit more time and analysis on the reading material. I found that I was wanting more information on each book or story used as examples. However, I realize the goal of this course is not analysis, but to help one learn to analyze the material on one's own. The instructor is clear, well spoken as well as seeming to be a likable person. He has already led me back to the road of enjoying my reading by giving me the tools needed to help me focus on the material. Very good to Excellent.
Date published: 2011-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Totally enjoyable! I have enjoyed several of the Teaching Co courses so far. This one has been my favorite Prof. Spurgin has an easy way of talking about his subject and making one think of different aspects to consider while reading.
Date published: 2011-03-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misleading title This is not at all what I expected. I wanted something along the lines of "How to read a book" (a life-changing book, by the way) but what I received was more of an academic literary analysis course, including some very strange (and silly, IMHO) ideas such as doing "what-if". Some of the ideas (ex. pre-reading) work very well for non-fiction but not recommended for fiction. It also appears that the professor is reading prepared notes, removing a lot of spontaneity.
Date published: 2011-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth the time There is lot in these 24 lectures. The best way to tackle this is to go through it fast the first time, and then do it slowly the second time, preferably with a fiction the author is referring to. He also has lot of good references. The material is very interesting and deep. It is very well presented. It is also challenging. This is a course for someone who really wants to get to the internals of fiction.
Date published: 2011-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must for Fiction Writers as well as readers I believe this course should be a prerequisite for all who write fiction or aspire to write. It's a wonderful expose' of the relationship between Author and Book, as well as Book and Reader. This marvelous course describes many of the main stratagies and techniques used by authors to convey their stories, and how different choices affect the work. As a novice writer, I found it answered foundational questions which "how to" classes or books spend little time on if any. It is also very encouraging, because I keep saying, "Yes, Yes", when I recognize what experienced authors say about the process, which helps me feel I am on the right track.. Bravo!
Date published: 2010-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helped Me Understand Books I've taken at least a dozen Teaching Company courses about books and literature. My total list of TC courses exceeds 50. This is the first one I listened to three times in a row without listening to any others in between. As a life-long reader, and as a professional writer--mainly of nonfiction--I've longed for a course like this without knowing what I was looking for. I'm starting it for the fourth time now, as I lay plans for beginning writing a new novel, because the ideas about how books are constructed are important to me and help me understand my own writing and story telling process better. Kudos for this course and its presentation! I highly recommend it for both readers and writers.
Date published: 2010-09-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, but too much As with other reviewers, I found some of the content in the course interesting. Reading at least 50 pages to give a book a chance is one I'm holding onto. Overall, however, this course wants to be a literary scholar/critic course, that's the way the instructor seems to want to take it. He doesn't though, and ends up teaching down to listeners to stay away from the academic stuff. I didn't want the academic stuff, and I feel asking readers to imagine the story told in a differen perspective, etc. is silly. I just got some interesting perspective on how to approach reading differently.
Date published: 2010-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should be required for high school and college Have always been interested in reading, but Prof Spurgin provides the tools needed to unlock deeper analysis. He makes reading fun, which it should be. Some of the motivation comes from being able to read for pleasure and not for work, and the course helps with that distinction. I like the numerous examples, particularly Great Gatsby, War and Peace, Age of Innocence, and Dickens. The chapter on metafiction is one which a professor could only love, but provides insight into the next level of fiction. Like how he pulled punches on popular fiction such as Da Vinci Code. Actually wish the course was longer.
Date published: 2010-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Art of Reading I hesitate to begin this review echoing comments by others, but I can't get away from the fact I so wish I had this course thirty years ago. I'm not a fiction reader, bought the course to help me appreciate fiction, and Dr. Spurgin has certainly done that. What wonderful aspects of fiction reading he brings to the forefront. I just savor them all as he opens such windows onto intelligent reading. He wants us to love the intelligent reading process as well. Another point, I do like how he thanks us at the end of every lecture. Dr. Greenberg does as well. Very nice touch.
Date published: 2010-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish I Would Have Watched this Years Ago In 2003, I embarked on a journey through the classics using Susan Wise-Bauer's book *The Well-Educated Mind.* While Bauer gives some hints about reading a book, this course takes it to a whole new level! I plan on using it to help my kids become better readers as they are in high school and college. Also, I hope to share things with my classics book club. I thought his presentation was excellent. He is engaging and not dry. Great course.
Date published: 2010-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cloying substance This is my fifth TC course and all have their different pluses and minuses. In this case, the plus is all the reading tools I now have at my disposal. As a lifelong reader, who has been known to gasp at the beauty of a phrase or the stunning presentation of an idea, I thought I was a pretty attentive reader. Now, however, I'll be going into my reading with a new focus and thought process. This course also has encouraged me to retry previous "put-downs," which I may now be able to appreciate better due to my advancing maturity or new skills. The minus? In trying to be entertaining, I felt the professor sometimes went a bit too far, falling a little flat. His own personality, knowledge and experience can carry the day and I'd suggest he just relax and be himself. Overall, the pluses outweigh that one small minus. Prof--if you're reading this, I finished the course (on CD) yesterday and have already read Heart of Darkness. Now I know why this is one of my son's annual readings. I'll be following through on some of your other selections. I know your course has enriched my life.
Date published: 2010-05-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Has strengths and weaknesses I have a BA in English and an MLS in library science, yet I never had a course in literary criticism or breaking down a work of fiction into its technical components, so this was helpful. But it still came across as simplistic. I appreciated the comments on individual works, some of which I hadn't read. My main issue with the course was the professor's presentation. I realize this is a matter of personal preference, given some of the other reviews which give him high marks. I was surprised, though, that one reviewer said he didn't sound like he was reading from a teleprompter. That's exactly how he sounds--reading directly off a sheaf of written notes, the kind of lecturer I dreaded in college. He speaks too slowly and in verbal italics, uses too many rhetorical questions, comes across as patronizing ("NOW do you remember?"). I'm listening to all 24 lectures because there are many good tips to pick up, but it's frustrating.
Date published: 2010-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good for writers As a writer I found much of the content invigorating. Perhaps the course should be titled the Art of Reading Lke a Writer. Reading is often perceived as a passive activity, and this course helps the listener(I bought the CDs to hear in the car) learn to be an engaged reader. I teach an AP English course and I may share sections of the audio with my students next school year. Professor Spurgin is an engaging professor, and I plan to listen to it again soon.
Date published: 2010-05-04
  • y_2020, m_2, d_21, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.5
  • cp_3, bvpage2n
  • co_hasreviews, tv_10, tr_87
  • loc_en_US, sid_2198, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 72.09ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought