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Course helps readers share a love of books

The University has collaborated with the Edinburgh International Book Festival to help book lovers get the best out of their reading.

A free course entitled ‘How to Read a Novel’, will draw on an array of texts, from the classics to contemporary works.

The most recent examples will be drawn from the fiction shortlist for the James Tait Black fiction prize – Britain’s oldest book prize.

Exploring fiction

Already 10,000 people have signed up for the four week course via the FutureLearn website.

The Massive Open-access Online Course, or MOOC, will take readers on an insightful journey giving them the tools to appreciate works of fiction, and examine what makes a good novel.

Course leaders from the University’s Department of English Literature will give participants an introduction to the four key elements found in most fiction – plot, characterisation, dialogue and setting. 

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Edinburgh International Book Festival

Interactive study

Videos, quizzes and discussions will also be used to explain fundamental concepts.

Students can interact with other readers and writers via a discussion forum, reading or posting questions and replies. 

The Book Festival is hosting two additional events linked to the course content featuring three of the fiction contenders for the James Tait Black Prizes – one with Jo Baker and another featuring Garth Greenwell and Eimear McBride.  

The winners of the 2017 James Tait Black Prizes will be revealed on stage at an awards evening presented by broadcaster Sally Magnusson on Monday 14 August.

The James Tait Black Prizes are awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh for books published during the previous year – one for best work of fiction and the other for best biography.

A fascinating blend of books telling stories that cross cultural divides forms this year’s shortlist.

The best in new writing

The four novels competing for the £10,000 fiction prize are: A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker, (Doubleday); What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (Picador); The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, (Faber); The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan, (4th Estate).

The shortlisted biographies are: The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez by Laura Cumming (Chatto and Windus); A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters (Fourth Estate), A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby by Joe Moshenska (William Heinemann); Rasputin by Douglas Smith (Pan Macmillan).

More than 400 works were read by academics and postgraduate students from the University’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, who nominated books for the shortlist.

Reading techniques

The reading techniques the judges and students use will be made clearer for non-experts in the new MOOC.

It is the latest in a series of open online courses from the University, which to date have been taken by more than two million people.

We are delighted to be part of this collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We’re sure that people will enjoy learning how to get the most out of reading a novel by working through both classic texts and, using the James Tait Black shortlisted novels, the best new writing from last year.

Professor Dorothy MiellHead of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

The Edinburgh International Book Festival began awarding the James Tait Black prizes 10 years ago, and over the years, they have been exceptionally accurate in identifying literary works that stand the test of time. This new online short course is ground breaking initiative that builds on the best of what University literary teaching has to offer and adds to it the thrill and excitement of live events hosted by the Book Festival, the largest and most dynamic festival of its kind in the world.

Nick BarleyDirector of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

How to Read a Novel 

Details of the James Tait Black Prizes at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

James Tait Black Prizes 

School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Online learning 

University at the Festivals

Cover image - Credit:EmirMemedovski/istock