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Tag Archives: required

A while back, I wrote a post about some of the best books that I’d had to read over the course of my academic career. These were books that I might not have read had they not been on the syllabus for a class. I’m pleased to say that my own horizons were greatly expanded by this. Here’s a few more of the titles that were part of my college life.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Like Beowulf from the first iteration of this post, I was familiar with the core story, but I’d never read the full text before. In my first literature class as an English major, we focused on British literature from the 19th century (this might explain my fascination with the Victorian era…). This was one of the first times I’d intensely studied the life of a writer and their times while simultaneously reading their work. The story of the creation of Frankenstein caught me almost as thoroughly as the narrative. I loved the idea of Mary Shelley taking part in a competition with her husband and friends to write the scariest story. Not just taking part, but completely rocking it, to the point where her single novel is more well-known than Percy Shelley’s collected works. Frankenstein is brooding, Gothic genius.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. While Johnny Depp did a fine job of portraying Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s perfectly trippy adaptation, there’s nothing like reading the novel itself. Part of that may just be the result of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations  throughout the book. Thompson’s narrative weaves autobiographical elements and biting social commentary with detailed depictions of copious drug use. It’s stream-of-consciousness at its finest, and difficult to define in any other way. This one was assigned by the same American Literature professor who introduced me to the work of Alison Bechdel, and certainly caught the attention of the students in a manner unlike any other piece we read that semester.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. In my Modern British Literature class, we were given a book of short stories based on famous fairy tales. Let me start with this: these are NOT for kids. These are as dark (if not more so) than the Grimm Brothers’ versions, and are unflinching in their handling of the subject matter. They’re full of bold, strong women who handle traditional roles in non-traditional fashion. According to Carter, “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” These renditions of Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and others will leave you questioning what you might have missed in some of your other childhood favorites.

Reading is good for you, especially when you read outside of your usual range of authors or subjects. Branch out. Try something new. I hope that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Required reading. It’s a phrase that strikes fear in the hearts of lesser men and women. Despite the delays that my undergraduate career caused for my reading list, I encountered some of my favorite works of literature during those years. I had numerous lists of required material for my classes in college, and I can honestly say that my tastes have changed for the better because of it.

Some of my favorite pieces of required reading from my college courses are listed here.

Beowulf (translated by Seamus Heaney). My medieval literature professor had us read this one. I knew the story prior to taking the course, but I’d never read Heaney’s translation. Heaney maintains the verse form of the original text, but makes the legendary tale accessible to modern readers. Follow the adventures of Beowulf, mighty warrior, as he does battle with monsters and becomes a king. Side note: kennings are awesome.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel’s art recreates memories of her childhood in the family-run funeral home. Along the way, she reflects on her coming out as a lesbian and explores her recently-deceased father’s reasons for hiding his own homosexuality from his family. This graphic novel and its follow-up, Are You My Mother? are fantastic. Solid writing, honest prose, and intricate drawing make Bechdel’s works must-reads. My many thanks to my American Literature professor for introducing me to her writing.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. This was one I’d read a couple of times since first encountering it in audio book format on a family camping trip as a kid. When I learned that it was on the list for a sociology class I was taking, I wanted to thank the professor for picking something that so beautifully described a small, isolated community. Jonas’ selection as his village’s new Receiver of Memory is the first step in his realization that life in his home is not as ideal as he believes.

That’s it for now, folks, but I may make another post or two along these lines. Remember, literacy is our friend, even if it’s forced on us.