Last week I wrote an article for the blog The leaning bookshelf, where I tell a bit about my experience as a student of Film and literary studies. This week, I want to tell you some things about studying literature on my own blog. I notice there are a lot of misconceptions about what studying literature means, so I hope this article will make some things a bit more clear.

These are two different articles, so feel free to also check out the one on The leaning bookshelf!

  1. Studying literature is not the same as studying a language.

I’m from the Netherlands, and a lot of times when I say I study literature people respond: “Oh, so you’re studying Dutch!” No, I don’t. Studying a language is a whole different thing (I know, because I did study a language for one year). Studying literature means you study all kinds of narratives from all over the world. If you study a language, literature might be a part of that education, but it’s not necessarily the main focus, and you probably will only study the literature of one country or language area.

  1. You’re gonna need to read a lot of books.

Especially when you’re the kind of nerd like me who takes on extra courses, you may need to read several novels per week. That’s a lot to read, so make sure you really want to do this. These books can also be pretty difficult ones, so if you’re currently reading three Young Adult novels a week, that might not give you the right idea about how you will function when studying literature. Of course it’s not such a big deal if you don’t finish a book in time once in a while, and you might even bluff your way through your tests without reading a single book, but what’s the point of studying literature if you’re gonna do that?

  1. It’s not only reading books.

Although books are the main subject to focus on, you’re also gonna have to do some other studying. For example, you’re going to have to read quite some more philosophical texts. Literary theory is a big field and it will take you some time to work through texts by people like Derrida, Foucault and De Saussure. A lot of these theoretical texts require abstract thinking and a different way of reading than you might be used to with novels. Take your time, take notes, and attend your classes. Teachers know this is difficult stuff so they take the time to explain everything, so you don’t need to panic if you don’t understand your first philosophical text.

  1. Studying literature is great for your writing skills.

If you study literature you will need to write a lot of papers. This is because with most classes, you don’t focus on learning facts, but you learn about a subject to analyse. For example, at the end of my course of postcolonial literature, there wasn’t a test with questions we should answer about the books we read. We had to write a paper in which we analysed the postcolonial aspects of a book or film. This sounds pretty broad, and most of the time there’s a lot of freedom in which subject you want talk about, so keep your eyes open during the length of the course to see if there’s something you think you can write a paper about.

  1. You can actually get a job with a degree in literature.

Now, I don’t want to put people down who studied literature and are having trouble finding a job. I’m not saying it’s always easy. But it’s definitely not impossible. Because literature is such a broad subject, there are lots of places you can find a job. If you like academics, you can try to work at the university. There’s also lots of jobs at publishers. Literary organisations can also be interesting: how would you like to help organise a literary festival? Because you learned to analyse and write a job in the media is also a good option, and a lot of marketing positions are also possible. I know you won’t be the only one trying for these jobs, so it is very important to work on your résumé, but working on a résumé can be so much fun! Go volunteer at a literary festival, do an internship at a publisher, start a blog, go write for your university newspaper, help organise events for student: there are so many options, there’s always something that can give you that extra boost.

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