Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

From SparkNotes to Sparky Sweet, PhD

Read the Sparknotes

Read the Sparknotes (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

There are two basic reasons for reading classics:
1. Pressure
2. Enjoyment

Reason One:

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:–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).–never mind the name, it delivers the same sort of information in a somewhat different style.–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.–I used to rely on this site for my insights when preparing a unit, but then I discovered…–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.–another site when needing deeper analysis needs. While basic, it nevertheless provides great insights.–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.

Reason Two

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!

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

“To be successful at reading comprehension, students need to …” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)


Single Post Navigation

13 thoughts on “From SparkNotes to Sparky Sweet, PhD

  1. I remember Cliff Notes very well. Back in the day those not so lofty tomes saved my bacon, more than once. That is the overwhelming reason behind my wordpress blogsite name; well, that and the fact that my name happens to be Cliff 😉

    Oh by the way…
    I made a wonderful discovery when I opened my Kindle reader, last Christmas. Nearly all of the older classics can be downloaded for free. Many of the ones I’ve read so far are unabridged versions too.

    • Hilarious about the name thing. Free classics–can’t beat it. I found a free app on my iPhone which delivers free classics and I love have a book to read wherever I am.

      • That’s excellent, books on the go! I keep saying I will make my next phone an iphone. Sadly I am stuck with this old android and very little space for aps, until this contract runs out:(

  2. Oddly I have heard of these resources but never used them…I think I have an aversion to being told what stuff is about, even if it will enhance my reading experience…some people are just odd like that.

    • I am one of those annoying people who feed on trivia. I will watch a movie or read a book tuned into IMdB, Wikipedia, Shmoop, whatever the source so I can peek behind the scenes. My family and students are not always amused by my deluge of extra info.

      • Extra info is the way forward…especially the really obscure and pointless bits…I love for those also.

  3. What a great list of lit aids! Thanks for sharing and for visiting my site.

    Cheers, Diane @ godposts

  4. wiltedleaf on said:

    Mark Twain. It’s odd how much I had laughed so hard with Huckleberry Finn, but just could not get the gist of Tom Sawyer. Not even past the 1st chapter. Yep, Cliffnotes, I will have to look up for that book.

  5. Luanne on said:

    I love Puddnhead! Yeah, I agree with you about those sites, but it’s a shame for the students who miss out on all the beauty that you don’t find in summary and character analyses. All the little random idiosyncratic ways different people read. That makes for a great relationship between literature and reader.

    • I agree–if they only read the summaries they truly miss out! I suggest to them to refer to the sites to help them understand what they are reading. Some students have a more difficult time getting into the flow of classic literature, and that includes me! I still can’t get into James Joyce.

  6. A very perceptive post! I agree that any reading is better than no reading. Who knows, maybe someday the kid will pick up the classic on his or her own, and will gain something for having read a summary.

    Thank you for liking my blog post.

  7. Jamie Bourdain on said:

    They were saying the same thing about 60 second recap when that launched back in 2010 or so. Nothing new under the sun, is there?

    I like the 60 second recap girl’s analysis better than his. She’s also prettier.

    If you don’t know who I mean, here’s her YouTube channel—

    • I started using her recaps with my students, but they didn’t take to her style. Can’t use Sparky due to his inconsistent bleeping. There are others and I end up using whatever best suits the literature and age group.

Comments, anyone?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: