“If we begin to reflect on the kind of pleasure and refreshment that literature offers its recipients, the list keeps expanding. Some of the pleasures of imaginative literature are the ones that apply equally to other kinds of reading, though usually not in the same way or to the same degree. . . . pleasure to be derived from literature is the pleasure of seeing human experience accurately embodied so it can be contemplated and vicariously lived. More than anything else, literature is an embodiment of human experience.”—from “’Words of Delight’: A Hedonistic Defense of Literature” by Leland Ryken
Pleasure and refreshment, life experience accurately embodied. Yes. I am currently teaching an Introduction to Literature class this semester, and I’ve been thinking about how to talk to my students about the pleasures of literature. Many of them don’t like to read, or they read very little, or they read only within narrow boundaries. I seek to interest them in literature they would not naturally pick up and read. As I stand before them and try to give them ways to enter into texts, I realize more and more deeply that teaching literature to an audience that does not particularly enjoy reading comes down to demonstrating love and enthusiasm for the texts myself—carrying on a public love affair with fiction and poetry. This task can be challenging, especially when some of the students look at me like dogs hearing a high-pitched sound, their heads cocked sideways with puzzled looks on their faces. Even so, some of my students, I hope, will carry away something that will revisit them when their life experiences echo something they’ve read.