How to Read a Novel


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I have signed up for a four-week course with the University of Edinburgh on How to Read a Novel. As someone who loathed school and fled at the first opportunity without gaining a single qualification, this is a novel venture (pun intended), but one that I am looking forward to undertaking. Although I feel a little apprehensive, I intend to share my experience in the hope it may inspire others to continue learning regardless of age or academic background.

Please look out for updates outlining my progress at the end of each module.

The Course

Over the coming month I will be looking at the main building blocks of fiction: plot, characterisation, dialogue and setting. Examining how the various techniques relating to each of these components function in a range of different novels, and I will be drawing on four books selected for The James Tait Black Prizes 2016 fiction shortlist. This is Britain’s oldest literary award, based at Edinburgh University.

The four novels are:

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

I will be furnished with with plenty of excerpts from each of these novels in order to discuss them with others taking the course. Nevertheless, I intend to read all four books, although this isn’t mandatory.

The four modules:

Week One: Plot
Week Two: Characterisation
Week Three: Dialogue
Week Four: Setting

Further Information

The course is hosted by the FutureLearn platform and is the latest in a series of open online courses called MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) from the University, which, to date, have been taken by over two million people.

The University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh International Book Festival run this free online course, which is linked to The James Tait Black Prizes.

Categories: Adult Learning, Features

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38 replies

  1. I should do some courses like this, but there are only so many hours in the day and I can’t spare the time to do the necessary reading at the moment. Looking forward to hearing of your experience.

    • Thanks, Annabel. I know exactly what you mean about a lack of time, but at least this course is fairly short and doesn’t take up too many hours in my week. I’m just hoping I can fit everything into my schedule!

  2. This sounds so interesting! Coincidentally, I’m doing my first MOCS course at the moment (a nine week course, Understanding Dementia, run through the University of Tasmania). Fairly certain I’ll find these courses addictive!

    • I couldn’t resist, Kate, even though I don’t really have the time. Your course sounds fascinating. Would love to hear how you get on.

      • The course I’m doing is purely because my MIL was diagnosed last year. Honestly, I have so much going on at the moment and wondered if I will have enough time but then decided that you rarely get more time as the year progresses, so I’m just giving it a shot – glad there’s no exams 😬

    • So Sorry to hear that, Kate. I hope the course enables you to help her to some extent.

  3. This class sounds great! I hope that you enjoy it. I have found that taking lit classes as an adult is truly enriching. I did go to college when in my twenties but feel that I bring a different, broader and deeper perspective now. I am currently auditing a class on Adultery in 19th century European fiction. So far, so good though I think that I was a faster reader of long books when I was younger. Congrats for taking the class as it is a new experience for you. From your blog writings, I would never have guessed that you had not attended university.

  4. How fun! Some day, I hope to be able to do something like this. This course in particular sounds right up my alley, so I look forward to hearing about your experience.

  5. This sounds so interesting! I look forward to your updates.

  6. I second to the comment above , It would be really nice if you share your experiences. As I get more info reading sometimes I do have this question – am I reading the book correctly ?

  7. Thanks for your comment, Roselyn. I will definitely share anything of interest when I post updates. 😊

  8. This sounds so interesting! Do you live in Edinburgh, or are you doing this remotely? I visited Edinburgh last March, and I fell in love with the city! 🙂

  9. Thanks for your comment, Whitney. Sadly I’m doing the course online and not in Edinburgh. Yes, it’s a wonderful place – I would love to be there for the literary fest! 😊

  10. Great stuff! My motto is ‘learning is never wasted’ and even in retirement I am still undertaking literary courses and creative classes. You’ve piqued my interest with A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker 🙂

  11. Will look forward to following your adventures!

  12. Will look forward to sharing your new-found knowledge. I’m sure it can only make you and your blog readers better book reviewers as a result.

  13. Thank you, Lynne. I so hope you are right!

  14. This course sounds very nice, I’ve been looking for something similar for a long time! I think I’ll subscribe as well 😀

  15. WAIT IT’S FREE???? Now I don’t feel like I can wait until I’m done with my degree!


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