Learning to Appreciate Literature


First of all, I should mention that I am from Greece and was schooled by its education system. That you know this is important, because some of what I am about to say may not sound credible in the UK.

I have been a bookworm since I started university, but before that I used to find reading, and literature in general, a mundane task that was forced upon me in order to get a good job. I might have enjoyed books before then, but at school those I bought were only those you had to have for class. There was no choice and little room for imagination there. It felt as though the school system had a hand gripped around my neck so hard I could barely breathe. I am not exaggerating; the way books and their contents were served to me at school should have been punishable by law!

I will never forget my last year at senior high school, where I would spend hours and hours learning texts by heart – which I don’t even remember now – , my focus solely on passing the exams that would so (wrongly) determine my future. It was purely for academic purpose, not for any sense of appreciation or enjoyment. For me, back then books came only in two genres: dreadful and awful! I didn’t have time to read properly, I was simply memorising.

So all told, I hated Literature! But it was one of the subjects that I had to sit in my final exams for a place at university, along with Ancient Greek, Latin, History, and Essay Writing. These are all deeply theoretical sciences and in comparison to more technical stuff, they were supposed to be easy to learn by heart. Please explain to me how on earth you memorise essay writing or Latin or literature, though, it doesn’t make sense! Still, I had the answers that I needed to learn and let me tell you, I couldn’t deviate from them in the least. Literature is supposed to be a matter of subjective analysis based on your opinions and on your idea of reading and seeing through the text. However, because that was lacking, I could not for the love of books, love books!

It was only after I was accepted at university, at the English Language and Literature department (Oh, the irony! But my choice, nonetheless) that I finally saw how literature was supposed to be examined, enjoyed and discussed. This is where my frustration peaked, as I finally discovered the magic of books. And let me tell you, I needed that magic to keep me going through my studies, as not all of my professors were shining beacons of literary hope. It all started with Edgar Allan Poe’s Cask of Amontillado and William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily. I did not just become a fan solely of the Gothic and the macabre genre, however, I became enchanted by books across the spectrum, and at the power they could suddenly hold over me. I didn’t care anymore that I had to read them for a purpose, as long as I had lots and lots of them to read. It was a complete turnaround for me.

Which brings me to today’s moral: if you even find a hint of truth of what I have mentioned before in your educational lives, please try to disregard any shabby system (real or perceived). Enjoy your taught literary masterpieces (each book will have something to offer), even if you do have to memorise. Trust me, one day you will thank yourself for the way you treated them!

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Pola is an avid reader and passionate about anything education related. She is an English teacher and has taught students from diverse backgrounds, both privately and in the classroom. Her studies in English Language and Literature and International and Comparative Education have provided her with the necessary skills and knowledge to further pursue matters related to education - and to write for OOL.

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