This is a course in reading complex, richly rewarding texts. Because reading is not one skill but many skills, there is not just one way of reading--there are many ways of reading. How we read a text is largely determined by the purpose of a piece of writing and the techniques used. A newspaper article, instructions for assembling a bookcase, a romantic love story, the Bible, Marx's Das Kapital, and the Iliad make vastly different demands on us as readers, have different purposes, and provide different kinds of satisfactions.
Escape fiction, for example, enables us to get away temporarily from the pressures and responsibilities of our everyday lives and just to relax. (My own choice for escape literature is science fiction, mysteries, and horror stories.) Unlike escape fiction, literary texts make rigorous demands on us because they explore meaningful themes such as our relationship to God, justice/injustice, or the nature of love, so that our understanding of ourselves and our relationships to others, to society and to God are deepened and our lives enriched. Most college students have the reading skills needed for escape fiction and simpler texts, but they don't necessarily have the skills for reading classic literary texts.
The purpose of this course is to develop and to strengthen the ability to understand, to be moved by, to enjoy, and to evaluate a variety of texts. To do this, we will read different kinds of literature (e.g., tragedy, lyric poetry, the novel); we will discuss their limitations and strengths; the writers' views about issues that we all wrestle with, such as the nature of being human, society and injustice, and death; the techniques they use; and some historical background and literary theory. Above all else, the goal of this course is for you and the other students to see the texts as vital and meaningful. You may not like all the works we will read, but I certainly hope you will enjoy and be moved by some of them and that your reading experience will become a more profound one.
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