This article uses a contemporary literature class titled Alternatives to Realism that the author taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the basis to argue for the special value of experimental, speculative, and otherwise antirealistic literature for introductory-level undergraduate literature pedagogy. The author argues that, rather than choosing realistic narratives that students are likely to understand and relate to on first pass, professors should deliberately seek out works students are likely to initially find confusing or strange and then endeavor to help them understand those texts. The article suggests that the difficulty associated with such texts, rather than intimidating students, actually invites them to engage with the reading process more actively and enthusiastically. The article discusses the premise and overall structure of the class and the rationale behind it; delves into specific examples of discussions and assignments based on such texts as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow; and examines students’ own ultimate responses to the class as presented in their final exam reflection essays. Ultimately, the author argues that teaching (seemingly) difficult, idiosyncratic literary works helps students appreciate the unique intellectual work of reading, strengthens their self-confidence, and leads them to a keener appreciation of the humanities more broadly.

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