If you are in an English major, then you get to read a lot of books. Here are ten that you should make sure you read at some point in your academic career.
1. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism
Some schools call the class Literary Analysis, some change up the name. But almost every English major should have read something similar to the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. This anthology includes many popular theorists.
Some might ask why should English majors study theory? It’s because you will use theory, or some variation of it, in almost every discussion and paper you will write. Talking about the Uncanny? Look for Freud or Lacan. What about feminism and gender study? Judith Butler is a big name in that category.
Every single area of study will have someone who has a theory on it. Hence why this class is usually taken near the beginning of your academic career as an English major.
2. Animal Farm
This book, while short, has a lot of impact on the world as a whole about the idea of communism and the implementation of its ideals. Every word has a meaning to the pigs’ scheme in taking over the farm. A lot of high schools have their kids read this book, but some don’t.
In any case, this book is important to have in an English major’s library for reference when in a discussion about clever ways authors reference big ideas to a huge audience. Especially in a time when books are being censored on specific topics.
3. The Odyssey
Greek mythology references can get confusing if you don’t know what god or goddess does what or is related to who. The Odyssey follows Odysseus’s journey home from the end of the Illiad, which covers the Trojan war. High schools will sometimes have the students read an excerpt from this book, but the English major needs to read it all to find out some information about the characteristics of certain gods in the book.
There are many different translations of the book, so you might want to read a few of them to get a better feel for how the translators feel about the messages from the book as a whole. Emily Wilson is one of the better translators of this Greek text in the way she portrays how certain characters react and her interpretations of some ambiguous Greek words.
If you haven’t read the Illiad, written also by Homer, then you should read it before reading this book. Although just a quick lesson on the Illiad works as well to understand where the beginning of the book is and who certain characters are concerning their importance.
4. Shakespeare’s plays that aren’t Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet
Shakespeare is popular even among students who aren’t English or Theater majors. However, most of them aren’t aware of the less popular plays that he wrote.
While these two plays are popular in their own right, there are plenty of his plays that will give a lot more merit for discussions. For example Titus Andronicus, Othello, Macbeth (aka the Scottish play), or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Every play has a way of bringing in a heated discussion at some point based on the characters’ actions or the plot of the story itself. If you have the chance to get a version of these plays with more modern language, then it is a little easier to understand the language if you are new to Shakespeare.
His plays have a way of showing you the general idea of how society viewed certain groups of people and the impact that made on those characters in that group. In some cases, he attempted to make them act out and try to be more than their stereotype.
One rule of thumb for when you see a fool or joker in his plays: sometimes they have nothing to do with the plot, but other times they are the ringmasters behind everything. So make sure to read carefully and discuss with others to see their interpretations of his words.
5. Wuthering Heights
You will be surprised at how heated discussions can become when you discuss this book with people who know how to analyze the characters and their motivations. One minute you will find yourself allying with one character, the next you will find yourself on the fence based on their actions towards the other characters.
This book has been described as a story about both romance and revenge, but you will find out for yourself when reading which one it is aimed at more.
Any English major knows that it’s important to discuss ideas with other people to see multiple perspectives, so don’t forget to make notes as you read.
6. Jane Eyre
This book is a classic that many students know about, whether they’re an English major or not. This story follows the namesake Jane Eyre as she grows up and experiences life through a dull lense. She is witty enough for the men to see her for her brains, despite them thinking that she is plain looking.
As you read the book, you realize that she isn’t the usual heroine in any book supposedly about romance. This opens the door for a lot of discussion on her little quips at the male characters as she grows up into her own thoughts and opinions.
7. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
This book is many stories within a story, written by a man of questionable character. Which makes it a perfect fit for an English major to read since they will be able to analyze the different stories and prompt discussion about whether this story or that story is simply meant to be funny or has a darker meaning to it.
As you read Chaucer, you will find that you either like him moderately or can’t stand him. There are a few sprinkles of people who like him though, so you might find yourself among that group. No matter which group you stand with, you should read this book and find out information about the author to get a good grip on the messages the stories present.
8. Le Morte Darthur
This book is something every English major should find themselves reading at one point or another. It’s a great introduction to the tale of King Arthur: his rise and his downfall.
In every English major’s academic career, they are introduced to a variety of different topics, genres, and time periods that they have to study. King Arthur is set during the British medieval period. By reading this book, and of course, discussing it with peers, you get a good sense of the character of King Arthur and whether he was truly deemed to be a great king or not.
It’s a tale that brings both the supernatural and knighthood together.
9. Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the science
Climate change is something has only recently begun hitting the classrooms in English classes. This could be because it is mostly thought of as a topic only concerning the sciences. But there are many works of literature that talk about this topic too.
This book presents the idea of climate change, and the science of it, through the lens of a comic book. The information isn’t presented as word vomit in this way and is actually a lot easier to understand if you aren’t as familiar with the details of what is happening to our planet.
It’s a lot easier to break this book into parts and discuss amongst classmates what each section’s message is and what it suggests going forward.
10. Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States
Another topic that is starting to make waves in English literature classrooms is Hispanic literature, specifically those that have been censored for many years due to various reasons, predominately political.
This anthology is a great addition to an English major’s collection in that it gives many stories of personal accounts that will open your eyes to a whole new world. Some you might connect with, some you might not. It’s important to realize that you won’t connect with every piece of literature because every person has their own struggles that sometimes aren’t universal.
Even though those struggles might not be felt by all, they should still be heard and understood because everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard.