My favourite books I’ve read for my English Literature degree
I’ve read a lot of books for my course over the past two years, some more enjoyable than others, but in no particular order, here are some of my favourites:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – probably a good one to go for before you tackle War and Peace, even though this novel is huge in its own right (I listened to the audiobook mainly, as it was huge and I’m a slow reader). It’s a major work, following a wide cast of characters and their misfortunes, fitting it nicely into Warwick’s European Novel module. I saw the Joe Wright movie years ago and loved how stylistic it was, so I was excited to explore the source material, which is rich with tragedy and drama surrounding the aristocratic circles of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Villette by Charlotte Brontë – this was a little gem (and that has nothing to do with the fact that my copy is a tiny mass market paperback). It’s a story of a quiet but resolute woman striving to make her own way in a world crafted by men, although whether she succeeds or not is another question. Our protagonist Lucy moves alone from England to France and takes up a position as a teacher of English in a school, and the story details her struggles with isolation and unrequited love in a gothic setting. There may even be a ghost involved…
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin – this was right up my street in terms of the books I enjoy reading. Sci-fi is one of my favourite genres, and it was reading this book as a part of the eco-criticism weeks of Modes of Reading in my first year that really solidified my interest in eco-criticism. In terms of plot, it draws distinct similarities with James Cameron’s Avatar, with the oppression of a native population by humans who have come to their planet seeking raw materials. It carries more depth than your average sci-fi tale however, with a focus on colonialism that is distinctly relevant to our own Earth.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – This was one of the most gripping reads I’ve read in my entire degree so far. It was amazing and such an important tale. It’s an autobiographical graphic novel, recounting the author’s early life in a war-torn Iran and departure for Europe, and deals with some terrifying realities that are even more shocking through the eyes of young Marjane. If I were to recommend a book that everyone should read, it is this one.
The Iliad – Homer – I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, and the legend of Troy is iconic, so getting to read such a famous narrative was really exciting. It was one of the first texts I read at university, and I remember carefully reading it over the summer to prepare for Epic into Novel. It’s long, and tragic, and brutal, and also quite funny in places, especially when the gods interfere, but also kind of scary in the fact that the humans in the story are guided by the whims of destiny and divine intervention.
The Vegetarian (채식주의자) by Han Kang – This was the first Korean novel I’ve read for my degree and I was really excited to get to it because of my interest in Korean culture and the fact that I’m studying the language. I read the English translation (although one day I hope to be good enough at Korean to read it in its native language). We read it for Literature, Environment & Ecology, which meant we read it through an eco-critical lens. There’s a lot to break down within it, from issues of vegetarianism and veganism in a predominantly meat-eating society, to the metaphorical transformation of the body into a plant, with a particular emphasis on the female body. It’s an all-round disturbing narrative that raises questions about the human condition and our perceptions of the world.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – This was the first Jane Austen novel I’ve ever read (I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice I know I know…) and I enjoyed it. I never doubted I would because I love the whole melodramatic English countryside romance concept. I read it as a part of English Literature and Feminisms, so a key area of focus was the notion of ‘sensibility’ in the romantic novel, as well as on the relationship between the two sisters.
Middlemarch by George Eliot – I read this in my first year for Epic into Novel, and again in my second year for George Eliot and Sociology. It is chunky, and follows a large cast of characters, but I found it so enjoyable and easy to read that I actually finished the whole thing (which is kind of rare for me). George Eliot also grew up and lived in the Coventry / Nuneaton area near Warwick University, which gave it some local relevance.