Someone wrote to ask why on earth I have to write so much. Why should she waste time reading in English when she could be reading in Italian, she wanted to know. Why indeed?
And/or scroll down to the bottom of this article, click the ‘Unsubscribe’ link and follow the simple instructions to ensure that my musings no longer reach your inbox. People do, and I’m not offended. If the articles I mail out each Monday, Wednesday and Friday (including on ‘giorni festivi’) just aren’t for you, it’s surely better we part company. Goodbye, then! I won’t say ‘arrivederci’.
So today we have ‘Capitolo 4’ of our free ‘riassunti per studenti’ of Umberto Eco’s extremely famous novel ‘Il nome dell rosa’. Which we are also reading together as a sort of online ‘Book Club’.
Find it, and the previous installments, on our ‘Literature page‘.
These simplified notes, glossaries, exercises, and so on are produced by one of our Italian teachers to help you read the original book and, for those of you who are unable to get a copy due to the current situation, to give you a chance to join in with the ‘Book Club’ by following the story.
Look at each ‘capitolo’ in turn and, importantly, scroll down to the bottom of the article to READ THE COMMENTS from Book Club participants. You may find that people have already asked/answered the question that was forming in your mind. Besides, reading what other people have to say is fun, at least I think so.
To try to generate a ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit, I attempt to start off some kind of discussion each time I publish a new ‘capitolo’ with my own reflections. Today’s introductory comment (click here and scroll down) touches on Pasquetta and the nature of reading.
If you went to university, as I did many years ago, and studied something that required lots of reading (in many languages they ask ‘What did you READ at university?’), you might remember the reading process as often just not that exciting and, in fact, rather monotonous and hard work! Comparable to something like digging a ditch, or hacking away in a mine with a pickaxe, hoping to eventually come across a precious nugget of wisdom that will repay the effort you’ve put in.
I remember learning, after much time wasted with books that had nothing relevant to say to me, to start with the conclusion, then dip into the main text only if I could not avoid it. Reading at university, sadly, was not a fraction as engaging as the fiction I’d gorged myself on while at school.
Anyway, while writing something encouraging and uplifting for the courageous few who are hurling themselves against the barbed wire of ‘Il nome della rosa’, I remembered those carefree pre-uni days, and the joy of getting carried along by the text, of not wanting to put a book down, of resenting anything that kept me away from the STORY and the CHARACTERS, whether it was school, mealtimes, or the need to sleep.
When it’s done well, I think of reading as surfing, as being like catching a big wave and staying with it all the way to shore, where you nonchalantly, and with perfect balance, step down into ankle-deep water, tuck the board under your arm, and head right back out into the ocean, ready to do it all again!
THAT’S what it should feel like! Not like unproductive, sweaty, boring work.
And you know what?
You can catch that feeling even if you don’t know Italian (or whatever language you’re studying) that well.
Graded (simplified to different levels) ‘easy readers’, such as the ones we produce and sell in our online shop, can help you develop the basic skills, just as surfing lessons and over-sized beginner boards with soft edges support you while you’re learning to stand up and manoeuvre.
But sooner or later? You have to be willing to go with the wave, to launch yourself just ahead of that rushing mass of water, knowing that, while you might not make it this time, the more you try, the more likely it is that one day you’ll manage to do what the other surfers can.
You don’t need to wait, you don’t need to reach a certain level, or get a certificate, or have a teacher tell you that, now, OK, you can finally begin reading in Italian.
You can just do it.
Note that reading in Italian, or another language that you’re learning, is not STUDYING, which is a different process with different objectives.
I have nothing against studying (though I wouldn’t do it myself.) Just be aware that the tools you’d employ when doing it (dictionaries, notebooks, pens etc.) will not help you with reading. Or at least, not the fun, sun-sea-&-sand type of reading.
The dictionary is not your friend. To develop the skills to ride the wave, start by just reading, whether that be simplified or authentic texts. I began with simplfied texts, but there weren’t many available, so I quickly graduated to trashy fiction.
Nobody says you have to understand everything, there’s no obligation to look up and learn each unknown word, there’s no test. Dialogues are easier than description – if you get stuck, bogged down or demotivated, it’s OK to look ahead at how far you have to go to the next chapter, or scene change. Skip to the next bit of action, why not?
Reading in a language that is new to you, you may not understand much at first. But it WILL get easier. Remember, feeling unsteady, falling off, are necessary parts of the process of learning what will one day seem effortless and natural.
A mercoledì, allora.