From SparkNotes to Sparky Sweet, PhD
There are two basic reasons for reading classics:
Pressure comes from teachers assigning novels that no one wants to read, but students must read in order to complete the course. Mark Twain hit that one spot on:
Classic–a book which people praise and don’t read- Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New
I am THAT teacher who literally pressures students into reading. Granted, I get my own pressure from the curriculum powers that be. Certain novels must be taught, which means I must find ways to entice students to read them. Over the years I have gathered up sources I point out to students so that they may better understand the stories, poems, and novels I toss out to them. Some teachers promote the erroneous idea that to utilize a resource like Sparknotes is cheating. Huh? That’s like me handing out To Kill a Mockingbird to my ninth graders, instructing them to sit down in a closet, and I shut the door. They might as well read in the dark if they don’t understand what they are reading. I know some students who never read assigned books and only Sparknote them (an AP student admitted this to his teacher, tsk 2 honesty 1). My thoughts on this are: a)it’s not like Sparknotes are contraband or are damaging to young minds b)at least he is familiar with the novel now. Some reading, even if it’s through summary, is better than no reading.
The other kind of pressure comes after we have left school and feel the need to fill in the holes of our education by reading all those classics we weren’t assigned or assigned and didn’t read. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Crime and Punishment, Robinson Crusoe, the list goes on. Just because we are in college or are college graduated, older, smarter, more aware, yada yada, that doesn’t mean we understand Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, any better. We can also get by with a little help from our friends, those marvelous lit aide sites:
Sparknotes.com–the go-to site for understanding a novel. It covers content, facts, chapter summary, characters, theme, major quotes, all the biggies. There are even quizzes to test comprehension plus videos (major spoilers though).
PinkMonkey.com–never mind the name, it delivers the same sort of information in a somewhat different style.
Cliffnotes.com–if you are as old as me then you remember those wonderful little yellow and black booklets (anyone else think they resembled bees?–and if a teacher caught you with them you got stung?) that helped shed light on Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, etc. They are now adding videos to their venue. Mmm, I’d say the videos are at about middle school level in approach, although most of my ninth graders liked the silly humor.
Novelguide.com–I used to rely on this site for my insights when preparing a unit, but then I discovered…
Shmoop.com–a most excellent and diverse site for pulling in understanding for both contemporary (mainly prevalent bestsellers) and classics. Prepared by smartypants PhD students (so they say) there is a break down of overview, analysis, theme, essay questions, characters, and a roundup of the best of the net. Videos are often a part of the lineup which are designed to evoke discussion (great for Socratic seminars) and are crafted with cunning.
Cummingsstudyguide.net–another site when needing deeper analysis needs. While basic, it nevertheless provides great insights.
Thugnotes.com–new to the scene, it’s difficult to know what to do with this venue. Sparky Sweets, PhD, is an erudite street talking armchair lit critic. The paradox of foul-mouthed summary offset with finely constructed analysis makes this video series a conundrum. I know the students would appreciate how he brings literature to an understandable level, yet there is need for more beeps or I would be answering to the admin. For a bit of entertainment and enlightenment I present as a choice with caution to those who prefer to not have their classics fouled.
There are more sites out there, and I would appreciate hearing your faves.
If you read the classics for pleasure then you will still appreciate the above-mentioned sites as they add to the reading experience.
Read the classics, no matter if you have to or want to, for they are the foundation of all we read today!
- Don’t Hate Boo Radley, Hate the Game (anniecardi.com)
- The Book vs. SparkNotes (slough1145.wordpress.com)
- The Best Video on the Internet Today: Thug Notes Reviews “1984” (complex.com)
- 23 Books You Didn’t Read In High School But Actually Should (buzzfeed.com)