My analysis of literature: the good, the bad and the ugly

The Blue Bookcase posed an interesting question to its readers this hop: To what extent do you analyze literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you're going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience?

To what extent do I analyse literature? I feel a little bit awkward about answering this question because I think that it highlights my biggest weakness as a blogger.

That's right. I am going to admit to you what I see my biggest failing as a blogger is.

First, I am going to answer the final two questions.

Am I more analytical in my reading if I know I am going to read the book?

Yes. The reason I started Page Turners in 2009 was because I was ploughing through books at the rate of knots and not giving them any consideration once I was finished with them. I started to long for the times in high school English class when the books I read were so much more fulfilling to me as a reader because I studied them; looking into their construction and plots and characters in so much more detail. Having analysed the book in that way made the book so much more enjoyable to me.

So I started Page Turners to try and find some of magic again. Since then, I definitely read books differently. I mark passages that capture my attention. I think more about the characters, plot and writing in the book and consider what the author was trying to achieve and whether they did. Knowing that I am going to review the book means that I pay attention to the finer detail because it is often those details that really add to a review.

Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience?

As said above, it is useful in helping me understand and appreciate literature. By analysing it as I read, I can more fully understand the story, the characters and the author's intentions. I find little details that I otherwise might not notice and I can attribute meaning to why those details are there.

It means that when I recommend a book to people, or just talk books with people, I am more able to engage in a meaningful discussion.

It doesn't detract from my readerly experience, but I think that this might be something more to do with my analytical abilities than anything else.

To what extent do you analyse literature?

And that brings me to my weakness. Although I analyse literature, it is only the extent that my abilities allow me too. Sometimes, I wish that those abilities were more developed than they are.

I have no system in how I analyse books. I have nothing specific that I am looking for, no plan of action or method. I just read the book and take mental notes of the things that grab me.

Is this even analysis? I don't know.

I try very hard to think about the content of books (the themes, the language etc) and then express my thoughts in my review. Often though, I am not all that satisfied with the outcome. I read so many exceptional blogs where the blogger really gets into the heart of the book and can express themselves so effectively. When I compare those reviews to my own, I feel as though I am lacking. I've never studied anything remotely English related since I left high school (I did a law degree…. say no more) so I don't feel as though I really know how to identify some of those aspects of a book I would like to be analysing. I also feel as though I lack the vocabulary and the writing ability to express my thoughts as well as I would like.

If I was more skilled at analysing literature, I wonder if it might detract from the reading experience. I wouldn't like to be someone that is constantly taking notes as they go etc, I just want to read.

So there, you have it folks. I don't even know if what I do counts as analysis but if it does, I certainly wish I was better at it. I know that over the last 2.5 years my reviews have definitely improved so perhaps I am on the way to gaining more understanding of how to really analyse and appreciate literature.

What about you? Are you satisfied with your analysis?
What do you even consider literary analysis to be in a blogging context?

I just wanted to add that after reading everyone else's response, I am more than ever questioning whether what I do is really proper analysis. I think I focus more on myself as the reader - my response to the book, why I felt like that and what the author did that made me feel like that. I wonder if that's analysis or not?

The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The following review was was written by a close friend mine who has given me permission to post here her review of controversial author Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. She has previously had her review of Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality ed. Sarah Husain published here on Page Turners.

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As I perused the shelves of my favorite New York feminist bookstore, the sub-title, ‘An Emancipation Proclamation for Women’, jumped out as a prefect candidate for my inspiring holiday reading. Having recently read Voices of Resistance , I was keen to further explore the realm of Muslim feminist writings, and eagerly handed over my $25.

Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I took out my new book on the packed Brooklyn train and started to read, ready to be invigorated by some inspirational writing. However by the time I arrived home, I was far from inspired - I was irritated and confused. A third of the way through the book, I realized that Hirsi Ali has a very particular vision for the so-called ‘emancipation’ of women and Islam; a vision that requires all Muslim women to leave their ‘pre-modern’ existence and embrace the enlightenment of ‘the West’. By the end of the book, one could be forgiven for believing that all Muslim women were terribly oppressed, unhappy and uneducated; never left their homes, were ‘married off’ in their teens and uncritically adopted a religion and life that could not possibly be satisfying or liberatory. Hirsi Ali actually manages to disempower the women her book claims to speak to. This makes me wonder – who then, is this book written for?

In her opening chapter, Hirsi Ali briefly explains her background, and motivation for writing the book. This is expanded on in Chapter 6, which conveys her history as a girl who left her Muslim upbringing, sought refugee status in the Netherlands, attended university and found herself in Parliament. These chapters usefully put her argument into context; however Hirsi Ali also uses this as a means to legitimate herself as an ‘expert’ on Islam everywhere. This is problematic because she offers her opinions in a way that generalise her experience to that of any Muslim woman anywhere in the world. She fails acknowledge the diversity of Muslim communities and experiences, making far-reaching statements such “millions of Muslim women are sentenced to domestic work indoors and hours of endless boredom” and “very few Muslims are capable of looking at their faith critically” . These statements typify the language used throughout the book - factually ambiguous, value laden statements that are damaging to the many Muslim communities who are painted as something they are not.

Her project for liberation, while never clearly stated, can be adduced from discussion throughout the book. She argues that the “world of Islam” needs to embrace individual freedom, “the pursuit of reason” , separate church from State, develop science and technology and allow sexual freedom for women. Throughout the book she speaks of ‘the west’ and ‘Islam’ as counter-posed monoliths; describing Islam as “pre-modern” and “fossilized” , with Muslims “lagging behind the west” . The West is said to be ‘modern’ and ‘developed’; valuing education, employment and individual responsibility, with “several ideologies that exist alongside one another” . In this construction, Hirsi Ali imposes her own world view, and privileges her own experience of ‘liberation’. She assumes that all Muslim women who have not taken her path need emancipation, going as far as to say: “one day their blinkers will drop” .

It is unclear the position Hirsi Ali is writing from in this text. She identifies with her stated audience by saying ‘we Muslims’ throughout, however also self-identifies as an atheist and a member of ‘the west’. Further, she denounces authoritarianism, while at the same time arguing for state enforced solutions to many of her criticisms of Islam, such as compulsory screening of girls ‘at risk’ of genital mutilation . The most curious contradiction arises in her closing chapter, where she says that most Muslims are “decent and law-abiding people” who “are not fervent believers of every ritual of Islam” , a stark contrast to the pre-modern peoples in the rest of her text.

This begs the question then: Do Muslim women really need saving?

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Great review.

Has anyone ever read any of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's books? What do you think about her controversial views? (and please keep it polite)

Genre question for everyone about indigenous fiction, please help


What genre is that?

I am in the process of splitting my book reviews into a list of reviews by genre.

I hope that this will give me some idea of what kind of books I am reading and where I should make more effort to expand my knowledge of the different types of literature.

I also hope it will make it easier for my followers to find book reviews that might interest them.

But I am having difficulty with genre's (as you can imagine) so here is my first question for you all:

Australian Aboriginal fiction. I have a category for all Australian books called "Australian Literature" and I have a category for all books by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors called "Australian Aboriginal authors".

What I am not sure about is whether I should have a category for all books that deal with Indigenous Australian themes/stories, regardless of who the author is and what that category should be called?????

 Books that come to mind are Diamond Dove by Adrain Hyland, The Timeless Land by Eleanor Dark and The Secret River by Kate Grenville - all about indigenous/Aboriginal issues/themes, but all by white authors.

Any suggestions?????

Back from holidays and a reading update (It's Monday, so why not?!)

Well, another Monday has arrived, and this is my first Monday after my beautiful holiday in New Caledonia. I'm telling you, if you ever need a nice holiday away on a tropical island, New Caledonia is definitely an option you should think about. Lazing on the beach drinking cocktails (well, juice cocktails, the down side of pregnancy!) and swimming in that beautiful clear turquoise ocean. Sigh. Heaven.

But now I am back and ready to take on the world again. No, not really :-)

Current Read

This is an old favourite of mine, in fact, the entire book is. I have two copies of The Lord of The Rings. One is as it was written originally, with all of them in the one book. The second and my most used copy has each book separately. I took The Two Towers and The Return of the King with me on holidays and I am still finishing it off. I don't know what it is about The Lord of the Rings, but it just seems perfect to me. It's everything I want from a book. Real emotion. A real sense of place. In depth characters. Complexity. It's perfect.

Just finished

Having just come back from two weeks holidays I have just reading a lot and I loved reading them all! Some were re-reads and some were new to me books and some were new to me books and authors! Here's a list:

The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien (re-read)
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde (new to me book)
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie (new to me book)
The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke (re-read)
The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (new to me book) (how brilliant is John Wyndham!)
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (new to me book and author)

Up Next

Who knows. I like to keep a bit of spice in my life.

Review: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, the real-life inspiration for detective fiction

"Since Whicher was sure that the murderer was an inmate of the house, all his suspects were still at the scene. This was the original country-house murder mystery, a case in which the investigator had to find not a person but a person's hidden self. It was pure whodunnit, a contest of intelligence and nerve between the detective and the killer. Here were the twelve. One was the victim. Which was the traitor?"
~ Quote from The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

For a non-fiction book, Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher has many different, but equally interesting layers to it.

Firstly, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher provides detailed insight into the development of the profession of police detective. The book centres around one of the first murder investigations in 19th century Victorian England to significantly capture the public's attention - what is known as the murder at Road Hill House. One morning on a day in 1860, the inhabitants of Road Hill House, the Kent family, awake to find that young Saville Kent, aged 3, had been taken from his nursery during the night only to be found in the outdoor bathroom, brutally murdered.

What follows is an account of the investigation and resolution of that crime by Detective Jack Whicher. Detective Whicher was one of the original 8 Scotland Yard detectives. Whicher used his controversial methods to dig deep into the secrets of the Kent family and in doing so threatened many Victorian values and norms that were held dear by the population.

This is another layer of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - the examination of Victorian society through this singular case study of the murder at Road Hill House. Summerscale explores the roles of things such as family, privacy, gender roles and class distinction in the lives of the people of 19th century England, as they were reflected in the media coverage and popular opinion of this singular murder.

Finally and most most interestingly, in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Summerscale goes so far as to claim that this murder and Jack Whicher's investigation of it had a significant influence upon the development of detective fiction as its own unique genre. Sumerscale claims that prior to this public murder, detective fiction only took the form of short stories but that after the public attention it received, detective fiction began to evolve into longer pieces of fictions. She argues that the case had a profound effect on authors such as Wilkie Collins, Henry James and Charles Dickens and that the influence of Mr Whicher's personal characteristics and investigation methods can be seen in fiction from the 19th century to the present.

So, in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Summerscale sets out to achieve a lot and I would say that she is largely successful. I certainly found for arguments about the effect the murders at Road Hill House had on detective fiction the most interesting aspect of the book. Sadly, the tension surrounding the actual murder itself wasn't maintained throughout the entire book and I found my attention wavering from about two thirds of the way into the book. It may have been more effective in achieving its aims if it has been a little shorter and more directed.

Although it is essentially a book focused on a single murder in Victorian England, by looking at this murder in such depth Summerscale is able to bring so much more of interest to the attention of her reader, and I admire her for that.

5.5 / 8
Enjoyable, and worth reading if you have the opportunity.

I did a brief post about this around a month or two ago and a lot of people had read the book and enjoyed it. I would love to know how people feel about Summerscale's opinion on the role that this single murder played on the development of detective fiction as a genre. If you have read the book, do you think that she has over-estimated the role it played, or were you convinced by her arguments?