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The Art of Reading

Gain more insight and pleasure out of your reading with this exciting and useful course that will help transform the way you approach reading books and novels.

Art of Reading is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 111.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thoroughly delightful course A thoroughly delightful course. Helpful for aspiring writers as well as readers appreciate the creative process.
Date published: 2024-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not purchasing as it’s too expensive Not purchasing this, as it’s too expensive for me, a disabled veteran. I wanted a speed reading course.
Date published: 2022-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth it So when I first ordered this, I got the streaming video. About halfway through, I decided I need to add it to my DVD collection and got a physical transcript while I was at it. I am by no means a poor reader, but the lectures in this course opened my eyes to ways to improve how I read. While classical literature is discussed, it is a skill you can still apply to any book you are reading really. And it's taught by one of my fast-becoming favorite professors, professor Spurgin. Another one I will probably be re-watching again. I also have his other course about the English Novel which I definitely also loved. I'm hoping to see more courses done by him. Maybe one on Novel of the 21st Century and Female Novelist of the 20th and 21st Century?
Date published: 2022-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun, Helpful Insights for Fiction Fans The only caveat I would have for persons interested in this course is that it is devoted to FICTION reading which, while it is probably the most popular form of reading for most people, it is not the only kind of thoughtful reading. Our guide through this course, Professor Spurgin, is a delightful guide through this course, and I enjoyed his many illustrations from literature of the major points he was making in each lecture as well as his thought-provoking questions, such as "How would this story be different if it were told from the heroine's point of view rather than, as it is, the narrator's?" In his introductory lecture, Professor Spurgin distinguishes between what he calls "everyday reading" -- that which we do when we read road signs, menus, and so forth, as well as when we consult repair manuals or follow construction manuals in order to extract information -- and the reading we choose to do for pleasure. However, I wish that he would also have mentioned -- and distinguished between -- the "pleasurable" reading that involves fiction and that which involves non-fiction. For example, for many years now since I retired I have read around 100 books each year, of which about one-sixth are of fiction. And the others? History, above all, as well as deep reading in the social and political science genres. Dr. Spurgin does not discuss how this non-fiction "reading for pleasure" could be fined-tune into more of an art. I note this as a fact and NOT as a complaint. His course content makes it clear that he had no intention of addressing this other type of reading but, rather, that his focus was on the fascinating information a more attentive person could glean from his/her fictional reading. This caveat and minor reservation aside, I really enjoyed his delving into the kinds of "on the other hand" questions and issues that I had not really given much attention to before, such as the distinction between -- and the possible uses of -- so-called "flat" characters (those whose behavior is such that we expect no "surprises" from them) and those more "rounded" characters (who are wrestling with inner questions or problems that make their behavior much less predictable). As but one illustration: As he went through his discussion of "flat" and "rounded" characters I found myself inclined towards preferring "rounded" ones as the ones much more likely to be interesting and crucial to any novel. HOWEVER, I discovered that this was too facile a conclusion as he pointed out how the character of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, while clearly a "flat" character (that is, we always know what we are going to get from Watson: "just the facts, ma'am"), is also very helpful to us readers precisely because he is "flat." We rely upon him to give us his factual understanding of characters and events as he sees them, which allows us to put ourselves into his place in the story in order to follow developments. There were several other such "aha" moments as I took in these lectures, too, which is what made this course such an enjoyable and interesting journey for me. Also, to be perfectly frank, I suspect that any course on "How to more artfully read history" would be far more brief and, likely, far less interesting!
Date published: 2022-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Useful and well written This course is well thought out and delivered in understandable and relevant segments. I learned a lot about reading, but also about writing. The only criticism is that Dr. Spurgin has a tendency to side-eye as he is delivering his lecture, as if there is someone in the wings with a whip, ready to deliver a whack if things go awry.
Date published: 2022-02-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Better adapted to a fiction writing course The course is well organized and complete. For me however it was much more targeted toward fiction writers, rather than readers. Professor Spurgin does a fine job in presenting the material and keeps the momentum going from chapter to chapter.
Date published: 2021-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very good course This was a very helpful course & helped me fine tune my reading skills
Date published: 2021-11-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Satisfactory I think content throughout is excellent. I find the Lecturer to be in a hurry. His speed of delivery is too fast and does not allow time time to assimilate / understand before moving on to another topic.
Date published: 2021-11-06
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Learn how to make your future reading experiences more enriching and enjoyable with these 24 insightful lectures. Designed to maximize your effectiveness as an artful reader, The Art of Reading brings together concepts, tools, and techniques rarely found together in a single package. Teaching with an engaging and conversational style, award-winning Professor Timothy Spurgin shows you how to approach even the most daunting novel or short story with increased confidence.


Timothy Spurgin

Working on these courses was exciting and fun. Even more rewarding, has been the chance to hear from listeners, especially those that say the lectures have gotten them back into reading or convinced them to try a new author.


Lawrence University

Dr. Timothy Spurgin is the Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English Literature and Associate Professor of English at Lawrence University, where he has taught for more than 15 years. He received his B.A. at Carleton College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia. A respected and admired lecturer, Professor Spurgin teaches courses on Romanticism, contemporary critical theory, and the English novel, among other topics. He has also served two terms as director of Lawrence University's freshman program-recognized as one of the best in the nation. Professor Spurgin has received two coveted teaching awards from Lawrence University-the Outstanding Young Teacher Award and the Freshman Studies Teaching Prize-and he is a three-time recipient of the Babcock Award, given by university students to the individual who, through involvement and interaction with students, has made a positive impact on the campus community. Professor Spurgin's scholarly work has appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dickens Studies Annual, and Dickens Quarterly.

The Art of Reading


Artful Reading and Everyday Reading

01: Artful Reading and Everyday Reading

In this introductory lecture, discover the difference between everyday reading (reading to extract information) and artful reading (reading to take pleasure in language). Also, learn how noted author C. S. Lewis defined the two types of readers, and outline the methods you'll use over the next 23 lectures.

33 min
Authors, Real and Implied

02: Authors, Real and Implied

You spend a lot of time with your favorite authors. But what is the difference between a real author and an implied author? Learn the answer to this intriguing question by examining a familiar story, the theories of two literary critics, and personal opinions from two iconic Western writers.

31 min
Narrators—Their Voices and Their Visions

03: Narrators—Their Voices and Their Visions

First- and third-person narrators are the two most common narrators to be found in literature. In this lecture, Professor Spurgin argues the pros and cons of each form and the unique ways they influence your reading experience, using stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne as examples.

31 min
Characters—Beyond Round and Flat

04: Characters—Beyond Round and Flat

For most readers, nothing is more important than a story's characters. Here, investigate what makes characters flat (unchanging) or round (dynamic) with an example by Anton Chekov - a master of literary characterization. Then, learn the secret to determining whether a character is worth reading about.

31 min
Descriptions—People, Places, and Things

05: Descriptions—People, Places, and Things

Discover an alternative to skipping detailed descriptions in your reading. As stories by John Updike and Flannery O'Connor demonstrate, descriptions not only create vivid impressions, they also provide the potential for new perspectives, deepen your understanding of the characters, and sharpen your interest in the story.

31 min
Minimalists to Maximalists to Lyricists

06: Minimalists to Maximalists to Lyricists

What are the two fundamental elements of style? Does the style in which a story is told really make a difference in how it affects you? And which style is the best one to read? Uncover the answers in this engaging look at how writers work and play with words.

31 min
Explosive Devices—Irony and Ambiguity

07: Explosive Devices—Irony and Ambiguity

Professor Spurgin teaches you how to heighten your ability to detect irony and ambiguity in your reading with a look at Katherine Mansfield's classic short story, "Bliss." By understanding the different forms of irony and ambiguity and picking up on their use, you can radically change your opinion on an entire work.

30 min
Reading for the Plot—Five Simple Words

08: Reading for the Plot—Five Simple Words

Plots are what hook us at the beginning of a reading experience and what keep us reading through to the end. Unpack the mechanics of a work's plot - what goes into it, how it can be arranged and presented to the reader, and how to distinguish the plot from the story.

31 min
Master Plots—The Stranger and the Journey

09: Master Plots—The Stranger and the Journey

Continue your explorations of plot with a look at master plots - familiar plots that appear everywhere. Learn to recognize the difference between the two terms, how they shape your reading experience, and why you can't begin to make sense of a book before placing it in a particular genre.

30 min
The Game Is Afoot—Sherlock Holmes

10: The Game Is Afoot—Sherlock Holmes

In the first of three lectures that take you through the elements of fiction as they appear in classic works, apply your newfound knowledge and skills to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. As you work through various stylistic questions, discover why Holmes is considered both a writer and a reader.

30 min
The Plot Thickens—Scott and Brontë

11: The Plot Thickens—Scott and Brontë

Most of the literary examples so far have been short stories, but what happens when you're reading a larger novel such as Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre?" See how Professor Spurgin's tips and tricks to more artful reading still apply - even when you're faced with hundreds of pages of material.

30 min
The Plot Vanishes—Faulkner and Woolf

12: The Plot Vanishes—Faulkner and Woolf

Innovative and experimental, Modernist literature can sometimes be intimidating for first-time. In this case study of the Modernist masterpieces "As I Lay Dying" and "The Waves," learn how to approach these types of novels with increased confidence.

32 min
Chapters, Patterns, and Rhythms

13: Chapters, Patterns, and Rhythms

Now, turn to one of the smaller units of storytelling: the chapter. Chapters are more than just convenient places to stop reading; they are carefully arranged and organized by the writer. Learn how to tease out these connections with a look at chapters from two very different novels: "Great Expectations" and "My Antonia."

32 min
Scene and Summary, Showing and Telling

14: Scene and Summary, Showing and Telling

Zoom in on the structure of an individual chapter and learn how to distinguish between its scene and its summary. Learn why these two terms are, in the opinion of Professor Spurgin, the basic building blocks of fiction by seeing them at work in "The Mayor of Casterbridge" and "Disgrace."

31 min
Subtexts, Motives, and Secrets

15: Subtexts, Motives, and Secrets

Sharpen your ability to understand subtext - the meaning that lies beneath the words and actions of characters in a particular scene. Using Jane Austen's classic novel "Persuasion" as a case study, develop some techniques for gleaning hidden meaning in the novels you read.

31 min
Dialogue—The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

16: Dialogue—The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Focus on a topic touched on in previous lectures: dialogue. Using examples from classic and contemporary novels, Professor Spurgin shows you how to tell the difference between convincing dialogue and flat dialogue; he also calls attention to the relationship between a literary genre and the style of its dialogue.

32 min
Metafiction—Fiction about Fiction

17: Metafiction—Fiction about Fiction

Metafiction is, essentially, fiction about fiction; with these particular reading experiences, anything is possible. Learn how to read, make sense of, and enjoy this complex and demanding genre by examining works by two of its recognized masters: Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino.

32 min
Adaptation—From Fiction to Film

18: Adaptation—From Fiction to Film

Tackle the age-old question: Why is the movie never as good as the book? Each medium approaches the act of storytelling in markedly different ways. Using cinematic versions of "Heart of Darknes" as examples, discover how film adaptations can provide you with a sharper sense of the strengths of their literary sources.

32 min
Realism Times Four

19: Realism Times Four

What do writers and literary critics mean when they talk about "realism;?" Unpack the meaning of this writing style, distinguish between the four types of realism, and discover how H. G. Wells's "War of the Worlds" endows the science fiction conceit of a extraterrestrial invasion with a startling sense of realism.

31 min
Thumbs Up?—Interpretation and Evaluation

20: Thumbs Up?—Interpretation and Evaluation

The question of how to interpret a work is one of the thorniest in literary theory. Do artful readers respect the intentions of a text, or do they question its hidden assumptions? Is there a right or wrong way to interpret and evaluate a book? Find out in this lecture.

31 min
A Long Short Story—

21: A Long Short Story—"Runaway"

Examine Alice Munro's "Runaway," a short story whose power can be unearthed with the techniques outlined in earlier lectures. By reading this story in an artful manner, you can learn just why it is that Munro and writers like her are so admired and respected by critics and readers.

31 min
A Classic Novel—

22: A Classic Novel—"The Age of Innocence"

In the second of three case studies, turn to Edith Wharton's masterpiece of old New York: "The Age of Innocence." Professor Spurgin demonstrates how a close, artful reading of the novel's narrator and its intriguing central character reveal deep insights into the social complexities of late 19th-century New York City.

32 min
A Baggy Monster—

23: A Baggy Monster—"War and Peace"

Develop successful reading strategies for those times when you're confronted with a book that runs nearly a thousand pages in length. Case in point: Leo Tolstoy's mammoth Russian masterwork, "War and Peace." As you explore familiar issues of artful reading, you also learn how to approach works written in translation.

30 min
Picking Up the Tools

24: Picking Up the Tools

Conclude the course with this exploration of endings, specifically the closing passages of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Persuasion." What makes for a satisfying conclusion to a reading experience? Also, revisit some of the major benefits of becoming a more artful reader.

35 min