How to Approach Literature

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ganman0305
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How to Approach Literature

Post by ganman0305 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 2:08 am

Hello! I am trying to nail down Literature. I know it's a big endeavor, and I was wondering if you guys had any guidance on where to start. I understand rote memorization of author to title goes so far, but there's still a ton of other elements like details in works, common link, etc. that it feels like I need to master the material in order to grab. Plus, how should I approach scholarly articles which I see appearing more and more in upper level questions? Thanks!
Ganon Evans
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University of Iowa '22

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Fuddle Duddle
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by Fuddle Duddle » Thu Dec 27, 2018 5:55 pm

I'd advocate learning the canon in terms of plots, character names, etc. before you start delving into literary criticism. My entry point into literature was noticing topics I was annoyed at getting beaten to and just reading either the works themselves or the wikipedia articles on them. Later, I started going about it more systematically and making concerted efforts to read major dramatists' and poets' work (mainly because I have a short attention span and these genres are generally pretty quick reads). Lit can seem intimidating or impenetrable at first, but the same techniques you'd use for any other category largely work for getting good at it. (Take my advice with something of a grain of salt; I'm not sure how good I am at literature on National difficulty).
Jakob Myers
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by Banana Stand » Thu Dec 27, 2018 6:21 pm

I'll echo Jakob and say that reading literary criticism at this point isn't going to help you very much. I don't know your current level of play, but you're going to want to start by just amassing a lot of "author-work", "work-character", and "work-plot point" knowledge through reading packets, using a question reader, and doing Wikipedia readings. This is going to be your base and what you're going to use so you can buzz pre-FTP on most things that come up. I don't know if you learn by carding, note-taking, or whatever, but you're going to need to do a ton of that in this stage. While doing this, periodically pick out some important things to nail down. Instead of just knowing "Bazarov, Arkady, nihilism, Odintsova" for Fathers and Sons, read it or look at a deep plot summary of it so that you'll be able to buzz early. For most plays, short poems, and short fiction, this should be the norm, as they can be read and mastered quickly. Write tossups on the works you read afterwards if this helps you retain the information better. For long fiction and longer poems, you'll have to satisfice a lot more, and it's up to you to find a balance of what longer works you can read or deep study as opposed to clue-mining on quizdb. Lit is a huge category and even the best of the best still don't know a ton, but it's very rewarding to learn and will result in points if you put in the work.
Jack Mehr
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vinteuil
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by vinteuil » Thu Dec 27, 2018 9:29 pm

Jack and Jakob are both wrong about secondary sources and may be thinking primarily of literary "theory" as opposed to criticism. (And many works of literary theory, including classic ones that come up in their own right, include very helpful descriptions and analyses of core literary works!)

The secondary literature is most of what constructs the most famous and "important" aspects of a work, so a good introductory, survey, or otherwise broad-based secondary text will often give you a great start on a book.

And of course reviews can be phenomenally helpful!

Jonathan Magin once made a great post about using secondary sources to ferret out salient clues: http://hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewtopic. ... 8&p=112562

This is just as true for players as it is for writers.
Jacob Reed
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Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:19 pm

I strongly agree with Jacob Reed here. When I'm trying to learn about a work of literature, for personal edification or for the purpose of writing a question, I find that literary reviews and essays are a really nice way to learn what people consider to be the most moving/salient details of a book, and that they often do so in a way that captures minute details that Wikipedia summaries (often written by amateurs) simply don't. In addition, such reviews and secondary sources often draw comparisons to other works, so you can often incidentally pick up knowledge about other topics along the way, in the same way you would do by clicking on Wikipedia links.

In terms of efficiency there's no substitute for raw packet studying for getting a broad baseline of knowledge on which to build quizbowl success, and this goes for literature as much as any other subject. However, you're going to need something more than just building cognitive maps within the canon, or you're not going to be able to adequately use clues for context (even if you don't know them) and buzz faster than your opponent when a more "well-worn clue" comes up, or get a clutch buzz on a hard question by making a logical guess, or handle all sorts of other real in-game scenarios that pure packet knowledge won't get you through. Doing so requires diving into the literary world in some way or another - and when you can't engage with a book directly, or aren't interested enough in something to actually read it, but want to read about it, essays and reviews are a fantastic way to go.
Will Alston
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by Fuddle Duddle » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:42 pm

OK Will and Jacob are correct that I definitely had too narrow of a view of what "literary criticism" is in my initial post. You should read the essays at the beginnings of editions of novels. I'll say, however, that whether pursuing secondary literature as a matter of first resort in learning about something is a good idea depends on the genre. For poetry, short fiction, and drama, it's usually more advisable to just read the texts themselves once you have a good sense from packet study of what's important (and potentially secondary literature afterward). For longer novels and sometimes plays, however, secondary sources are likely better. No matter which method outlined in this thread you choose to pursue, though, the most important thing is the level of effort you're willing to dedicate to this.
Jakob Myers
MSU '21, Naperville North (IL) '17
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by Thiccasso's Guernthicca » Fri Dec 28, 2018 11:23 am

Especially if you're starting out, learning clues that come up for works and authors is crucial – I carded a ton of literature clues for novels and short fiction in May and July, and that definitely gave me a great foundation from which to expand my knowledge further while still getting me points. Reading secondary sources and such will definitely benefit you if it's for more major works and you're playing at higher levels (for example, it's difficult to imagine there would be a purely plot-based tossup on super canonical and famous works at college regs difficulty or above; more likely than not, the bulk of the question will be lit crit, much like the 2018 NASAT tossup on Macbeth).
Wonyoung Jang
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jij03
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Re: How to Approach Literature

Post by jij03 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:01 pm

ganman0305 wrote:
Thu Dec 27, 2018 2:08 am
EDIT. I didnt even know PMs existed til i got FZ'ed. Sorry 'bout that. *megafacepalm*
Aidan McWilliams
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