Five Ways to Improve Your Book Club with
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism
by Steven J. Venturino
- 1. Don’t panic. It may be “theory and criticism,” but you can handle it. Think of it like music: Everybody can listen to and enjoy music, and some of those people also know a bit about how music is made and what its history is. This book gives you a look behind the scenes of many of the literary features you already notice and appreciate as you read.
- 2. Read and discuss a chapter or two at each meeting. This leads to discussions of specific theories together with specific books. Take a look at chapters in order, or just pick and choose chapters to accompany whatever book you’re bringing to club. You don’t have to pick chapters that seem to “match,” like, say, discussing the postmodernism section when you’re reading Murakami’s 1Q84 (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea). Instead, you’ll find that any of the theories and approaches will provoke discussion of any book.
- 3. Assign a theory or approach to each book club member for one session. This leads to a multifaceted discussion of the same book. In fact, you’ll find that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism includes just this kind of multiple perspective in its treatment of Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. Literary theory enlivens classic texts and helps you trace the ties that bind the most recently published novels with literary history.
- 4. Read and discuss The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism by itself and let the chips fall where they may. This lets you immerse yourself in all kinds of perspectives and concepts, argue about the value of the various approaches, and then turn to future readings with new skills and ideas.
- 5. Movies! The book works for movie discussions, too, since many “literary” theories are really theories of seeing, understanding, and interpretation in general. After reading the Marxism chapter, you may never watch Mary Poppins the same way.
I’ll update and expand this guide in the weeks to come. Feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or requests. On Twitter, I can be followed at @sjventurino.
Steven J. Venturino
May 2, 2013