Does analyzing books ruin them?

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Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Falls Apart » 08 Jun 2011, 08:38

So, if you followed the thread on Twilight a few weeks ago, you probably guessed this, but I'm a bit of a feminist, and they don't let you into the club unless you overanalyze everything. And cut your hair and lose your sense of humor, but that's a different story. Anyways, whenever I'm reading a book, I'm always looking at it like I'm writing a review on it. How's the writing style, how does the author establish characterizations, what bigotries are portrayed, what stereotypes are broken, does it pass the Bechdel Test, etc. But recently, I reread a book I loved when I was younger and absolutely hated it. It was sexist, the writing style was sub-par, and two people fell in love without, you know, dying violently. Not my thing. But I flipped through the first chapter this morning and found that, yes, it was very socially conservative, no, it wasn't the best book I'd ever read, and nobody got bloodily impaled, but that doesn't mean I have to hate it. I realized that, by dissecting every sentence, I destroyed a book that never claimed to be anything more than it is.
Do you ever find yourself doing that, obsessing over parts of a book and not letting yourself enjoy them? How much can you analyze something before you overanalyze it and watch it die as brutally as the characters in the aforementioned book didn't?
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Mira » 08 Jun 2011, 09:54

Well, I love to analyze books, but I think of that more as looking at the theme, the meaning, the metaphor. I love doing that - it's so fun.

Unlike you, though, I don't tend to analyze the grammer and style, probably because I'm not well trained in that. So, you may be struggling with the side-effect of being a highly trained craftswoman.

In terms of issues of oppression, I can totally overlook it in old favorite books and books that were written many years ago. I just know it was the culture then, and I let it go.

but in current modern day books, no. If something is sexist or racist or some other ist, I find myself getting very angry, and can't finish the book and will often talk about how problematic the assumptions are, like with Twilight.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Watcher55 » 08 Jun 2011, 11:45

I kept hearing about Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, and how good it is, so I broke down and bought it - with the intention of analyzing it rather than just reading it. I stopped after ~180 pages. I kept looking at his style and technique, and hated it. I kept stopping. "what the hell is that sentence doing there?" or "I wouldn't have done it that way."

As far as metaphors go - meh - they were valid and at times evocative, but too many of them lacked a certain level of subtlety, most of them were couched in esoteric allusions that lost their punch, because I usually knew exactly what he was talking about (I'm all about mythology and legend).

The themes were the deal breaker. I've had it up to here with the "America is really an ugly place if you look in the right places" attitude. Before y'all start jumping me, consider this - "...[W]arts and all", doesn't mean just the warts.

That being said, I can see why it's considered a "good book". He does remind me a little of Stephan King, but I don't think I can read his books for enjoyment any more either because I'll have to analyze everything.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby HillaryJ » 08 Jun 2011, 16:34

I don't think that analyzing books ruins them, but I don't understand why someone (outside of academics) would start a novel for the purpose of analyzing it without previously having read it for enjoyment. Nobody needs to read novels the way they might need to read nonfiction books for information or research. A good novel is more than the sum of its parts. A great novel is expotentially greater the sum of its parts.

Since I started writing, I am more selective in my reading. I now get hung up on books that don't work for me, and start to analyze what I'm having trouble with as I struggle to keep reading. Is the prose overly exaggerated? Is the plot full of false mystery? Is the dialogue trite? Is the main character inconsistent? Do I feel like I've read this story before? Many novels that I would have cruised through in the past, I now stop reading because of things like this. But, if I started each novel with the intent of dissecting it, I assume few would achieve high marks on each and every aspect of style and construction. Though, I personally don't believe there is a single rubric for grading fiction style.

Novels that I get lost in, where the style and structure are invisible because I'm so intent on the characters and stories, are rare. But, again, if I started those stories with a critical eye rather than looking for a pleasurable read to immerse myself in, I might not even finish them. And that would mean that I had deprived myself of a chance to discover and revel in a new world, which would be a huge loss.

I have gone back to analyze parts, either scenes that really resonated with me or themes that I didn't comprehend were developing until the end of the book, for the purpose of making myself a better writer. But that was only after I'd satisfied the reader part of me.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Chantelle.S. » 09 Jun 2011, 13:32

Not unless you analyse a book AFTER you've read it.
I've found analysing books from the very beginning to kill the experience for me. I tend to do this with books that are recommended to me. Nora Roberts and Trudi Canavan are both great authors, I'm sure, but once I picked out that The Novice starts off with a cliché (actually that whole first page is littered with cliché), and that Nora's style is a bit too stilted and not creative (or prose-ish) enough for me, I couldn't enjoy the books. There were good stories there,or else they wouldn't have been on anyone's recommendation list, but I missed out on them because I was involuntarily nitpicking through their work. I guess it's because they were recommended to me that my subconscious thought 'HEY, figure out what they did right to get recommended!'
I have the same issue with Stephen King and Anne Rice's work.
But there is a good side to analysing books. I've analysed one of my favourite books from cover to cover many times over, and you see a lot of the author in the writing. Not only their personal beliefs that come through, but also their individual style. Not all her books are on par with one another, her most recent work is absolutely horrendous where one moment the characters are conversing, the next they're ducking into a cave which seems to have materialised out of nowhere, and I'm left going O_O 'WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED? Did I miss something?' But the good books, the favourite ones that you can't put down and you can go back to reread again and still find enjoyable, there's no harm in analysing those.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 09 Jun 2011, 14:15

I don't analyze books while I am reading them, for the most part. I'm pretty good at disappearing into the story and not even noticing grammar or spelling problems. I'll look more closely at some later, sometimes.

In a general sense, I would say the answer is both yes and no about whether analyzing books ruin them.

Some books are made more valuable by analyzing them and getting a better handle on the multiple layers.

But some books should be enjoyed because they are enjoyable to read. I don't think every book needs to be processed and combed through. I think you can pop books like M&Ms and be just fine about it.

I think you can ruin a book by trying to analyze and pull it apart and try to figure out meaning where there is no hidden meaning. The apple was just an apple and not some metaphor for a deep psychological trauma administered by a teacher in tenth grade.

And somewhat out of scope - Watcher I am a HUGE HUGE HUGE fan of Neil Gaiman, and I find American Gods kind of wonky to read. It is not typical of his writing style, in my opinion. Stardust is also a big departure from his voice, but good. I'm more of a fan of Neverwhere, Coraline, The Sandman series, and his short story collections.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby maybegenius » 10 Jun 2011, 10:16

First: if you're hanging around feminists who make you cut your hair and lose your sense of humor, you need to find different feminists to hang around ;) I have many friends who identify as feminists while still wearing makeup and loving clothes and laughing at silly things. We're out there.

I've actually become the kind of reader who CAN'T read a book without analyzing it. That's just the sort of reader I am. I think it's incredibly important to read and view popular entertainment through my analytical lens, because I think there are a lot of subtle and unspoken ideas that are deeply ingrained in pop culture that should be talked about, and talking about them helps other people recognize them for what they are. I don't think Stephenie Meyer ever, ever intended to write a book about how teen marriage is the way to go if you want to have sex and that domineering, bullying men are sexy. I don't think she was trying to send messages or tell teens how to live. I think she just wanted to write a story she loved, and she did. However, that doesn't change the fact that there are some arguably upsetting views represented in her books, and those views should be discussed. Some of them are so subtle that there's no way they were intentional, but this is pop culture. It's being consumed on a wide scale by many people. It makes sense to want to look at it to see what makes it tick, to see why it's popular, to understand why people are connecting with it. In doing that, it also makes sense to talk about the themes being presented and discuss them from an analytical standpoint.

Pop culture's a powerful thing. Yeah, sometimes it saps my enjoyment of something (I can no longer watch "Attack of the Show" because of the constant, subtle-or-blatant belittling of the female that goes on there, which they try to excuse by having a female co-hosts), but that's okay. It inspires me to seek out new entertainment, and to think more critically about what I'm putting in my own work. Even pop culture itself is starting to look at itself analytically and spread its own messages of awareness. My little sister plays a character on a popular television show (which is itself full of its own issues, but it tries), and recently she was part of an outspoken campaign trying to get people to think about the use of a certain word. A common word that many, many people use and equate with "stupid" without ever thinking critically about what they're saying. With her campaign and the huge viewing audience of the show, she may have made a wave big enough to get people to start really thinking about what they say and how they act. That's awesome.

That's all I want, really. I never try to kill anyone's buzz or tell them they're wrong/stupid/ridiculous for liking entertainment that I'm not fond of. People are completely allowed their fluffy entertainment. I'd just like it if sometimes they'd think critically and consider things from new angles. If they do that and they're still fine with it, that's cool. I'd just like them to think. *I* like to think.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby dios4vida » 10 Jun 2011, 10:45

I read for pleasure. I don't go searching for things to gripe about, so I try not to analyze much. When the writer kicks me out of the story - when something, anything, pulls me out of the created world and reminds me that I'm reading a book - then I'll sit back and wonder what that was. Usually I'll find it's something like an infodump or trite dialogue (I've been reading some fantasies from the early 80's where the genre was still finding its modern wings) and occasionally something more dire. If I'm immersed in the story, then I don't analyze, because I do think it would ruin a bit of the joy for me.

After I've finished the book, no matter how much I loved or hated it, I'll mull over it for a while. I'll go over the plot points, characters, and notable places where "wow, this prose really worked!" or "wow, that prose really sucked." I'll turn my analytical eye to the story then and learn what I can. I find that by doing that, I'm looking at the parts that really impacted me and stuck in my memory, for good or ill. I'm not going over every little sentence, just the major achievements or downfalls. It saves me time and also points out the BIG things that I can learn from. I think that's a good thing (at least for me) because we all know how to craft a sentence and can usually tell when it's working or not. My language mechanics are decent, and by looking only at what pulled me out of the story or dragged me further in, I can see where I've done similar in my writing and adjust appropriately.

The one thing I'm really critical about, though, is spelling. I'm a stickler about my spelling and when I find typos in novels it drives me crazy. I understand and don't write nasty letters to the editor, but it does put my teeth on edge for a while.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Falls Apart » 10 Jun 2011, 13:01

Interesting observations :) I don't intentionally analyze books; it's just become so much of a habit for me that I do it unconciously. Even if I'm really enjoying a book, I find myself going through mental checklists afterwards. And if there are some serious errors, I feel myself reaching for my red pen.

Also, a side note - when I said the book was sexist, I didn't mean it was actually misogynistic or romaticized abusive relationships or anything like that. I am unable to enjoy (modern) books like that. Actually, it was the inverse of the problem most books have. Whereas many books claim to be feminist but have strongly sexist undertones, this book had an intelligent female lead with an interesting, astereotypical job and friendships with other women. It passed the Bechdel test at least once every three chapters, the male lead had non-romantic relationships with other women that got screen time, there wasn't a double standard about male and female sexuality, women are encouraged to embrace self-respect . . . but then, there were overt messages advocating wives being submissive to their husbands (although no actual submitting seemed to be going on) and outright condemnation of feminism (possibly due to some misconceptions on the author's part as to what feminism actually is). Pretty wierd. If I ever go through with my plan to start a feminist-analysis blog, I will definitely do this book, even though it's obscure, just 'cuz it'd be fun! :)
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby ladymarella » 14 Jun 2011, 16:33

I think a lot of it comes down to what the book's like. Recently i read Margaret Atwood's 'The Blind Assassin' and was blown away by the writing style and her ability as a word smith. I have found since I started writing seriously about four years ago I have started to pay much more attention to the writing quality in what I read. I love reading books with beautiful prose, and this is often the first thing i notice when I start reading a new book. Reading a lot of "books published before 1900" as my sister terms them, and a lot of more literary modern fiction, I find when I read something a bit more commercial I am immediately struck by the writing, but usually I don't let this bother me as i know the book is primarily focused on the story and I focus on that. For example the novel I am reading at the moment is great, I worked out in the first chapter that the writing wasn't "literary" though it was still good (after reading Margaret Atwood I don't think anything is going to look amazing) I am really enjoying the book, but I'm enjoying it for the great story rather than anything else.
As far as the classics go, I don't find analysing them kills them. I often find reading up on them often gives me insights i would not have thought of before. Though I do agree that you have to understand and accept they were written in times with different moral codes and live with that, and in a way that's why i love those books, because i find myself living in a different world.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Leila » 20 Jun 2011, 12:21

Three things for me:

a) I guess I don't buy a book with the intention of analysing it. I buy it with the intention of reading it and hopefully enjoying it. So the issue here is whether one buys a book to (primarily) educate oneself or for entertainment. I realize the two crossover and are not mutually exclusive, but again perhaps it comes down to intent.

b) When I read it, if it's well written I can't help but be drawn into that world and just be carried along until the end. The outside world disappears. Eg, when the final Harry Potter book came out I sat up all night and read it. What other choice was there? lol. But seriously, I think I unconsciously shut down the analytical part of my brain when I read. I'm big on analysis, so I'm glad I don't do it when I read. I'd drive myself to distraction and never finish a book! Except Harry Potter. Naturally.

c) The notion of analysis in any context is always good. There are always lessons, new information, challenging one's own thinking, pitfalls to avoid, new skills, etc that one can pick up along the way. It's how and when one applies it that I think determines whether or not it ruins a book.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby GKJeyasingham » 20 Jun 2011, 14:38

ladymarella wrote:I think a lot of it comes down to what the book's like. Recently i read Margaret Atwood's 'The Blind Assassin' and was blown away by the writing style and her ability as a word smith. I have found since I started writing seriously about four years ago I have started to pay much more attention to the writing quality in what I read. I love reading books with beautiful prose, and this is often the first thing i notice when I start reading a new book. Reading a lot of "books published before 1900" as my sister terms them, and a lot of more literary modern fiction, I find when I read something a bit more commercial I am immediately struck by the writing, but usually I don't let this bother me as i know the book is primarily focused on the story and I focus on that. For example the novel I am reading at the moment is great, I worked out in the first chapter that the writing wasn't "literary" though it was still good (after reading Margaret Atwood I don't think anything is going to look amazing) I am really enjoying the book, but I'm enjoying it for the great story rather than anything else.
As far as the classics go, I don't find analysing them kills them. I often find reading up on them often gives me insights i would not have thought of before. Though I do agree that you have to understand and accept they were written in times with different moral codes and live with that, and in a way that's why i love those books, because i find myself living in a different world.


I'd just like to say that The Blind Assassin is probably my favourite novel.

Anyway, I tend to read mostly "literary fiction" (though when I was younger, I read mostly YA/adult fantasy). Despite that, I don't really sit there and analyze them - I just read them like any other book. I analyze certain passages if they seem particularly interesting, and of course I pick up certain things as I'm reading, but I find that going out of one's way to analyze the entire book in depth reminds me too much of English class. Case in point: I have acquired a hatred for As I Lay Dying because of English. Maybe if I would have liked it better if I wasn't forced to analyze its every word. :?

And yes, I am well aware of the irony of reading yet not outright analyzing literary fiction. ;)

Chantelle.S. wrote:Not unless you analyse a book AFTER you've read it.
I've found analysing books from the very beginning to kill the experience for me.


This is true. Very well-put. If I've read the book initially with the intention of simply enjoying the story, I end up liking it and going back to it to quasi-analyze passages that stood out.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby Rosie Lane » 06 Jul 2011, 16:22

I find that analysing a book ruins it for me. I'm too busy looking for the craft to immerse myself in the story. Just writing has taken away a lot of my enjoyment of books since I have become far harder to please, so now I try to set aside everything and just throw myself in the way I used to.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby CabSav » 06 Jul 2011, 22:24

I'm with Hillary J here. I read a book first as a reader. If I don't like it I'll stop reading. After I've finished (or stopped) I will analyze what I liked or didn't like about it.

Every once in a while I will stop in the middle to analyze a story I want to love but that's going off the rails, trying to work out what's going wrong.

I think analyzing books does change your perception. I'm sure we can all think of classics we were forced to read at school, stories we didn't like to start with but that as we analyzed the story more, we came to appreciate how good it was.
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Re: Does analyzing books ruin them?

Postby polymath » 17 Jul 2011, 08:00

Ruination comes in the materials world from testing to the point of annihilation. Once that kind of testing is carried out to the ulitmate failure outcomes, there's death of continuing existence. Many, most goods sold anymore undergo that kind of rigorous testing at points in time before, during, and after distribution. They do it for consumers, who in the remote past did their own testing as they did most everything for themselves.

I do my own testing to destruction too. I look for a certain solidity of state, perhaps it's a heft. A good nailing hammer feels heavy. A good jeweler's hammer feels somewhat heavy, but elegant too. A half-heavy hammer, a handheld sledge hammer, feels like it will do some major damage. Flimsy junk I can spot from a ways off. The patina of a finish tells me if it's an afterthought or a well-thought out and applied product completion. See, I worked in a factory painting goods by state-of-the-art practices. I can spot a powder coated finish that wasn't baked to perfection. For that matter, spot a sugar cookie or short bread bisquit that was made with shortening or synthetic fat instead of butter. I don't have to macerate one, test to destruction, to make a buying decision. I used to be annoyed by packaging that obscures a product's solidity of state. Now I know by a packaging's intent to deceive that the product is junk. Though sometimes I do buy junk because it's cheap and convenient and suits my instant need and budget.

Literature is one of a very few goods that comes more alive through testing to annihilation. A thick book isn't necessarily a heavy book. It's weight is no indication of its depth or artful weightiness. I've bought junk books for shelf fillers, display pieces for sham bookcase displays in commercial venues. A bar once. The junk books filled up the space, fulfilled the purpose, and were left alone because they weren't worth stealing by the clientele. And they were cheap.

Unto each writer, reader, literary critic there is a spectrum of skills, stylistics, structuralistics, and aesthetics when it comes to analyzing merits and shortcomings, and tastes and sentiments and opinions too. Feminist approaches have a wide spectrum ranging from militant to New Feminism. Militant feminism takes a masculine approach to female oppression, co-opting masculine status competition methods for feminist agendas. New Feminism approaches literature from feminine emotional bonding ritual directions. And there are many individualized feminist approaches between.

There are as many literary schools of thought engaged in the secondary discourse of analyzing and responding to literature as there are literary movements, as there are genre categorizations, as there are reality consensuses. It's a conversation, after all, spanning the opus of literature and human history. Feminist, Marxist, historicist, structuralist, formalist, to name a few literary schools of thought categories.

New Criticism was all the rage in the U.S. early to middle Twentieth century, building on Russian Formalism and French Structuralism, and falling out of favor for its rigid formalistic structuralist and moralistic approach during the Postmodern social upheavals of the times favoring aesthetics and creativity over form, but not at the expense of form, and challenging and questioning presupposed notions of propriety; re: formalism and structuralism. New Criticism's subtext is morality ties into structure and discipline and Romanticism's predetermination conventions, the nemeses of creativity and free will exercise. New Criticism's popularity paralleled the Modernist era's ascendance and peak and fall from favor, reacting to Modernism's self-enlightened coping with the perils and progress traps and few and far between joys and rewards of predetermination and free will exercise in clashing contention to the point of confrontation.

I read for pleasure, taking pleasure in an artful creation, taking pleasure in testing to annihilation, taking pleasure in fathoming the depths and the shallows and the feathers and the anvils, taking pleasure in shredding a lackluster narrative, taking pleasure in whatever presents. My reading experiences have become evermore pleasurable regardless, more so because of. I'll sink my teeth into something, anything, though mechanical style issues will stifle my pleasure most of all.

The novels I thought were ruined by analyzing them I came back to and rediscovered their pleasures and more. Huzzah!
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