"Ways of Reading" introduces students to the characteristics thought of as literary and the methods for studying them. This is a gateway course into the English major, and only one of the ENGL201 series may be taken for credit.
"Ways of Reading" courses develop strategies for careful and close reading, and techniques for the analysis of literary forms such as poetry, drama, and prose narratives such as novels and short stories. They familiarize students with some of the protocols of the literary-critical essay, examine the idea of literature as a social institution, and explore ways of connecting textual details and the world beyond the text. The ways of reading learned in the course are powerful tools for critically assessing discourses that expand far beyond the realm of literature. So while students will become adept literary critics, they also will learn quickly that to be a literary critic is to read critically and carefully all the time: in poems, novels, and plays; but also in political speech, in popular culture, and in the discourses that shape everyday life.
This "Ways of Reading" course will explore the methods, meanings, and very purposes of literature by reading literature about literature--literature written by authors in their most playfully self-aware and self-interrogating of moods. In one of her novels, Jane Austen celebrates the pleasures and dramatizes the perils of novel reading, and an array of 20th- and 21st-century fiction writers sound similarly self-referential--if slightly more self-defeating--notes. Poets from Edmund Spenser and Alexander Pope to W. H. Auden and Billy Collins have written poetry about poetry, and both Shakespeare's Hamlet and Tom Stoppard's reimagining of two of its minor characters raise questions about the nature of theatrical performance and the roles we play in the world. We will attend to the different ways that these authors imagine the purposes and possibilities of literature, developing a nuanced sense of literature as a culturally specific phenomenon that fulfills constantly changing needs and desires. Throughout, our emphasis will be on the practice of close reading, on careful attention to how texts construct meanings and make demands on readers. Students will gain experience reading and writing about literature; learn key terms and tools for literary analysis; and cultivate a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of what literature is and does.