"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
One thing that may help you as you chart unfamiliar territory: if something in the work you are reading seems odd, confusing, inappropriate, or boring, it is probably extremely important
When you encounter moments of difficulty in a text, stop and think. Ask yourself: Why does this seem puzzling, why does it resist my understanding? What assumptions is the author making about his or her audience's cultural literacy or their conventional system of values that makes it unclear to me in 1999? What might I be taking for granted about the nature of literature or experience that is preventing me getting into this work on its own terms?
What field work do I need to do, what questions do I need to ask in order to clarify my ignorance, or to focus and redefine my critical and evaluative terms?
Act on your problem: if the confusing passage or baffling allusion or apparently meaningless inclusion or perplexing omission isn't footnoted in the Norton and doesn't get addressed in lecture, bring it up in section. Or stop me after class or come to my office hours, or write me an e-mail.