Favourite books from the final year of my English Literature degree
I studied this text as a part of my Classical Tradition module in term 1. I had very little knowledge of the ancient classics before taking this module, and so it benefited me greatly. Ovid’s epic poem was one that particularly impacted me. It contains many different stories, bound together in 15 ‘books’. While it was a difficult read, and I didn’t read all of it, many of the stories were ones that re-occur in many other texts throughout the history of English Literature. For example, Shakespeare used Ovid as a source of inspiration, and Ovid’s telling of the tale of Philomel and Procne is one that Shakespeare references heavily in Titus Andronicus. Having knowledge of these stories benefits my wider studies of literature.
Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
Of all the texts I read this year, this one was probably my favourite. A short story in the collection Seeds of Change, edited by John Joseph Adams, I found this incredibly charming. It’s set in Nigeria, following a lonely woman living in an impoverished pipeline community. It has a sci-fi twist, with the oil pipelines being patrolled and protected by murderous robots created by the oil corporations. Amidst this oppression, the protagonist befriends one of the robots, who defies its prerogative to form an attachment to a human. Despite its science fiction premise, it has a real resonance with reality, providing a glimpse into oil inequality and its consequences.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This was on the Asia and the Victorians syllabus, a module that looked at the relationships between Britain and its colonies in the Victorian era. I find it hard to recommend texts on this module, not because they’re not interesting, but because they contain, as can be expected from 19 century texts about colonialism, a great deal of racist content. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t be studied, and this module was one that looked at these texts with a critical eye that in turn can allow us to see how attitudes towards colonialism have changed throughout time, and how we in the modern era can be better. The Secret Garden was an incredibly popular children’s novel and remains so to this day, however it contains a lot of problematic attitudes and remarks that a child might easily dismiss, but as an adult, they call for examination. It wasn’t my favourite novel because of this, but I think it’s a valuable read if you want to take a critical glimpse into Victorian attitudes, provided you go into it with an understanding that it represents values of its time. That being said, though it’s a children’s book, I personally would not read it to a child.
The Violent Land by Jorge Amado
This is a novel that for some reason, I imagine would work very well as a movie or television adaptation. It’s full of drama, romance and intrigue. Published in 1943, it retains some out-dated attitudes, but overall it was quite enjoyable, and was one of the rare older novels that kept me engaged for hours on end. Set in Brazil, it describes the rush to develop new cacao plantations on undeveloped forest, and conflict ensues when different families try to claim the land.
Covehithe China Mieville
This is a short story in which sunken oil rigs return to life as giant monsters that drag themselves onto land and cause destructive chaos. It’s a surreal concept, but one that’s actually quite scary. Like Spider the Artist, it takes a sci-fi concept and makes it seem plausible, and again has a lot to say about the oil industry.
Basically every Shakespeare play
Shakespeare is great. He’s not the most famous playwright in British history for no reason. For the Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists module, we were reading a Shakespeare play a week, and my personal favourites include Twelfth Night, Hamlet and Titus Andronicus. A lot of productions are available to watch online too, and it’s really interesting to see variation in how different companies adapt the original text.