Responding to Literature
The act of reading is accompanied by emotional responses which, at the simplest level, take the form of pleasure or displeasure: You either like or dislike a poem, story, or play. You have not said much, however, if all you say is that you have liked or disliked something. Writing about likes and dislikes should require you to explain the reasons for your responses. In short, your discussion should be informed and informative.
Sometimes a first response is that a work is “boring.” This response is usually a mask covering an incomplete and superficial first reading; it is neither informed nor informative. As you study most works, however, you will become drawn into them. One common word that describes this process is interest; to be interested in a work is to be taken into it emotionally. Another word is involvement; it suggests that one’s emotions become almost enfolded in the characters, problems, and outcomes of a work. But sometimes these two words are used defensively, much like the word “boring.” It is easy to say that it was “interesting” or you were “involved,” but you might be saying these things hoping that no one will ask you to explain why. In this case, you are being asked to explain your reasons.
Using Your Early Reading Response Notes
No one, not even your English teacher, can tell you what you should or should not like. While your experience of reading is still fresh, you should refer back to your reading notes (from assignment two). Build on to these notes if necessary and discuss whether or not you liked what you read.
Be frank in your judgement. Write down your likes and dislikes and try to explain the reasons for your response, even if they are brief and incomplete.
I like “The Necklace” because of the surprise ending. It isn’t that I like the Mathilde’s bad luck, but I like the way that the author, Maupassant, hides the most important fact in the story until the end. Mathilde does all that work and sacrifice for no reason at all, and the surprise ending makes this point really well.
This little paragraph could be expanded as a part of a developing essay. It is a clear statement of liking, followed by references to liable things in the story. This response pattern can be simply paraphrased as “I like [or dislike] this story because…” and is useful in writing an initial response in your notebook.
Brainstorming Likes and Dislikes
If at first you cannot write any full sentences detailing the causes of your responses, make a list of the things you like or dislike. If you write nothing, you are likely to forget your first reactions; recovering these for later, either for writing or discussion, will be difficult.
Usually you can equate your interest in a work with liking it. Use the following list to help you be more specific when trying to articulate a favourable response:
- You like and admire the characters and what they do and stand for - You learn something new – something you had never known or thought before - You gain new insights into things you already knew
- You learn about people and customs of different places, times, and ways of life - You get interested and involved in the outcome of the action or ideas and do not want to put down the work until you have finished it - You feel happy or feel good for having read the work
- You are amused and laugh often as you read
- You like the way the author has presented their ideas
- You find that some of the ideas are beautiful and worth remembering
Although dismissing a story as “boring” is not usually an ideal response, it can be used to formulate a response that has been carefully constructed. You do not need to hide the fact that you did not like something.
1. I do not like “The Necklace” because the main...