Most people read in a relaxed, almost passive way. They let the story or poem carry
them along without asking too many questions. To write about literature well, however,
you need to read actively, paying special attention to various aspects of the text.
This special sort of attention will not only deepen your enjoyment of the story, poem,
or play but will also help generate the information and ideas that will eventually
become your final paper. How do you become an active reader? Here are some steps
to get you started:
» Preview the text. To get acquainted with a work of literature before you settle
in for a closer reading, skim it for an overview of its content and organization.
Take a quick look at all parts of the reading. Even a book’s cover, preface, introduction,
footnotes, and biographical notes about the author can provide you
with some context for reading the work itself.
Take notes. Annotate the text. Read with a highlighter and pencil at hand,
making appropriate annotations to the text. Later, you’ll easily be able to review
these highlights, and, when you write your paper, quickly refer to supporting
• Underline words, phrases, or sentences that seem interesting or important, or
that raise questions.
® Jot down brief notes in the margin (“key symbol—this foreshadows the ending
for example, or “dramatic irony”).
• Use lines or arrows to indicate passages that seem to speak to each other—for
instance, all the places in which you find the same theme or related symbols.
(If you prefer not to mark up your book, take notes on a separate sheet of paper,
being sure to jot down the appropriate page numbers for future reference. This
method will allow a lot of room for note taking.)
• Read closely. Once you have begun reading in earnest, don’t skim or skip over
words you don’t recognize; sometimes, looking up those very words will unlock a
* Reread as needed* If a piece is short, read it several times. Often, knowing the
ending of a poem or short story will allow you to extract new meaning from its
beginning and middle. If the piece is longer, reread the passages you thought
important enough to highlight.