Okay, so I’m stretching it a little by titling this post with the word “graduate”. Technically speaking I have not yet graduated. But I have officially finished all of university reading and classes, so I’m almost there! Let’s just ignore the fact that I have a dissertation to hand in.
Over the past three years I’ve read 161 books. Yes, I counted because I plan on shouting that number from the roof tops for the foreseeable future. 161 books! That averages out at just over two texts a week in an academic year which, if I do say so myself, is pretty impressive. I’ve read amazing books and I’ve read books that, despite being hugely “significant”, I would rather gouge my eyes out than read again. Whilst every book was on my course for a reason and most taught me a lesson that helped me within the context of my degree, if I’m being honest there’s quite a small percentage that I would actually recommend people to read. Let’s just say that I won’t be throwing around copies of Paradise Lost during the festive season…
So, if you want to enjoy some books on an English Literature BA reading list without splashing £27,000 and potentially loosing your will to live whilst writing essays, here is my utterly biased list of the ones that I think are actually worth getting your hands on. You’re welcome.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
Kicking it off with a children’s book because, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt on my course, it’s that I’m no book snob.
Tuck Everlasting is beautiful and whimsical and everything that you want in a fairy tale. It follows the story of the Tuck family who are immortal thanks to one pretty rad tree and explores how living forever might not be as incredible as it seems. It’s considered a modern children’s classic and I can completely see why.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Written from the perspective of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome, this book is not only hugely important but hugely entertaining. In the words of Haddon himself, “it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.” which I think sums it up perfectly.
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
This is a picture book, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s simple. It’s actually one of the most intriguing texts that I’ve read in the whole of my time at university. I even bought a copy of this book for my boyfriend because it felt selfish to keep it to myself. It’s strange, poetic and a reminder that none of us are alone.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
If, like me, you’ve managed to put off reading 1984, you need to get your hands on a copy. Now. It’s 300 pages of dystopian gloriousness that will make you question your social media habits, even though it was written in 1949.
After some negative experiences with Animal Farm at aged 13, I didn’t anticipate enjoying this at all. However, it’s now in my top ten books of all time.
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
This is one chunky book but man is the pay off worth it. The novel follows Serena Frome (“rhymes with ‘plume'”) through her experience of working for MI5 during the 1970s. She’s assigned as part of a covert programme called ‘sweet tooth’ which is seeking to fight communism through infiltrating the world of publishing. What follows is a story full of twists and turns that kept me up until 3am because I couldn’t put it down.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
This is another hefty book that I think is totally worth the time it takes to get through. Zadie is incredible and there’s no escaping that. It explores the themes of friendship and mother-daughter relationships (something which I think is annoyingly absent in coming-of-age novels which are usually focused on males) through following an unnamed narrator through her childhood and into her early adult life.
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
Consider this a big middle finger to the eminent Victorian critic John Ruskin who said that Rossetti ‘should exercise herself in the severest commonplace of metre until she can write as the public like’. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if she follows the ‘commonplace of metre’, Goblin Market is an incredible poem.
And, trust me, it’s not often you’ll hear me rave about Victorian literature. Whilst it was originally sold to the public as a book for children, it’s pretty much accepted as a poem about feminism, homosexuality and fighting social mores. What’s not to love?
Toast by Nigel Slater
Toast is an autobiography that is structured through food and all of the memories that the likes of angel delight and arctic roll can evoke. It is genius and (here come the words every English literature student yearns for) an easy read!
The Edible Woman by Margaret Attwood
Atwood has been a solid companion to me throughout my time at uni and I can pretty safely say now that if she wrote it, I’ll like it. The Edible Woman is said by Atwood herself to be a “protofeminist” text that explores the experience of Marian who, following her engagement, begins to be repelled by the food she used to eat on a daily basis.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I didn’t think that the thiny-veiled memoir of a heavily pregnant woman finding out that her husband is in love with someone else would be absolutely hilarious, yet here we are. This is a book that I will be filling people’s stockings with at Christmas.
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
As I said, if Atwood wrote it, I’ll probably love it. Cat’s Eye is a hefty novel that explores the themes of childhood and friendship. It’s incredible.
Peter and Wendy/ Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
There’s a reason that a million different film adaptations have been made of it, okay?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
“Wow Beth, is that an actual classic that you’re including there?” Yes my friend, yes it is. Whilst I did find this novel hard to get in to, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it once I was past the strange letter section at the beginning. If you want to look clever on your commute and not be bored at the same time, this is the way to go.
Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Another one that had me up until the hours of the morning, Never Let Me Go is a contemporary novel that will leave you questioning everything. I loved this bad boy so much that I even wrote an essay on it.
Night Walks by Charles Dickens
Studying a degree in English Literature in London, you pretty much have to read some Dickens. Or in my case, quite a bit of dickens. This collection of short stories is just beautiful, describing his walks through the city as an insomniac. It’s also a nice way to dip your toe into his work as it isn’t at all daunting.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Fantasy and Gaiman’s incredible written voice are perfect if you’re living in London. Not only is it an incredible story, but it will leave you thinking about a fantastical underground city every single time you’re on the tube.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I’ve mentioned Atwood twice already, are you at all surprised that this one made it on the list too? Just read it.