Saturday, 30 June 2018

Top Reads from my Degree

Two years ago I finished my English Literature degree. During the three years leading up to that point I read A LOT of books - as you would expect - and whenever I tell someone what my degree was in I always get asked 'what did you read'?. Most of the time I think people are hoping I'll mention a book that they've read as well, and whilst some of the bits I read were the usual classics, a lot were pieces that you wouldn't generally read unless you had a specific interest in the area. That being said, I thought I'd share with you my top reads from my degree that I think you should give a try. I'll share a bit about what each book entails but I will stay vague so that I don't ruin anything for you!

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

Now we've all seen the Disney film, but have you all read the book? I had read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland previously, but I had not read Through the Looking Glass. I read both of these as a part of my Romantic and Victorian Prose module. It was really interesting to read them both together and look at them from a literature background on such things like the representation of childhood moving towards adulthood, both within the text and the difference in images between the two. 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is different to the Disney film, but still follows the tale of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and her adventures in Wonderland with the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and the Queen of Hearts. In Through the Looking Glass Alice is a little bit older and goes through a mirror to a parallel-type world where there are familiar faces that appear as different characters because Alice cannot recognise them for who they are because she's starting to move away from her childhood. 

The Reader - Bernhard Schlink

I read The Reader as part of my Representation of the Holocaust module. The Reader is split into three parts, focusing on different stages of Michael's life and his relationship with an older woman Hanna Schmitz. Although focusing on the pair, the book deals with the difficulties post-war German generations had in comprehending the Holocaust, and examines the figure of the perpetrator as part of this comprehension.

*There is a film of the book which is a good adaptation, but I would read the book first!*

Caleb Williams - William Godwin

Caleb Williams was one that seemed to split people I spoke to in my module; most of my friends hated it but I really enjoyed it. I read this as part of my Restoration and Eighteenth Century Literature module which was an era that I had never really read anything from; at school it seemed to be you read Shakespeare and then jumped into the Victorian era. Caleb is told a story about a man he works for, Falkland Ferdinand, and begins to examine details of his life which leads him to the conclusion that he thinks Falkland is a murderer. The book then follows the revelation of this, and the pursuit of Caleb by Falkland to ensure that his secret is not revealed. 

Short Stories - Katherine Mansfield 

I read a few of Katherine Mansfield's short stories in my first and third year, for my Studying Prose module and my Modern Literature module. In particular I read The Garden Party, At the Bay, and Prelude. The stories are obviously all different but what drew me to her writing was her connection with prominent issues like class through her pieces. I bought the collection when I finished my degree because I enjoyed the stories and wanted to read some more! 

'None of Us Will Return' Auschwitz and After - Charlotte Delbo 

Auschwitz and After is a beautifully heart wrenching collection from Birkenau survivor Charlotte Delbo. I also read this as a part of my Representing the Holocaust module, and 'None of Us Will Return' focuses on Delbo's experience of the camp. Delbo, a political prisoner, explores her experience through poetry and prose, and along with her own experience, shares the experience of others in the camp who are unable to share their own. 

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote 

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction novel detailing the murder of the Herbert Clutter Family, and I read this as a part of my Contemporary Literature module. It examines the lives of the four members of the family, the two murderers, and other residents of the town. I found this interesting not only because of the non-fiction aspect, but also with its engagement with questions about the death penalty and being on death row. 

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me - Jennifer Teege 

I read My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me for my dissertation; Jennifer's mother featured in a documentary that I was focusing one of my dissertation sections on, about descendants of prominent Nazi perpetrators. This book follows Jennifer's discovery of who her grandfather was, and also focuses on her turbulent relationship with her mother and examines her attempts to come to terms with the revelation of her ancestor.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy 

I've already talked about how much I love Tess way back when I did a post on the 10 Books That Left a Lasting Impression and my Top Five Classics and if you are still yet to read it surely my third time recommending it should be enough for you? I was able to read this as part of my Darwin and the Nineteenth-Century Novel module, and I know this is a book that I will continue to re-read throughout my life. I'm not entirely sure what it is about Tess that I love; it's a very depressing book but Hardy writes so beautifully which is why he is one of my all time favourite authors. I think it's also because Tess was one of the first 'classics' that I read at A Level and was the start of what became my absolute love of English Literature as a subject. 

This book focuses on Tess, a farmer's daughter, whose father discovers they are descended from an old family called the D'Urberville's, and the journey that befalls her after this discovery and the lasting effect this discovery has on her and her family's life. 

Persuasion - Jane Austen

I had read a few Jane Austen novels before I went to University; Pride and Prejudice and also Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, so I enjoyed having the chance to read another one of her novels as a part of my Romantic and Victorian Prose module. The story focuses on Anne Elliot whose family are moving to get out of debt. Previously Anne had been engaged to Frederick Wentworth who at the time was not wealthy and had no great family name behind him but in the present Anne and Frederick meet again, both still unmarried but Frederick now a wealthy man. As with most Austen novels this has issues of wealth and class throughout and the importance society places on both of these. 

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens 

Can you tell that I like a good Victorian novel? I hadn't really read much of Dickens but knew a lot of the stories, and I had a vague idea about Great Expectations and its characters. This follows the journey of Pip from childhood to adulthood, from the point of view of adult Pip. In particular it depicts the character of Miss Havisham and the impact that Pip's encounters with her has on his life. Pip, a poor orphan, is pushed into the world of wealth and luxury by Miss Havisham as part of a wider plan she has, and the story focuses on the themes of wealth, class, love, rejection and good and evil.

I hope that this has been able to provide some ideas of new books to read that you might not normally  engage with. Have you got any recommendations for me? I've gotten back into reading this year as I set myself the goal of reading twelve books in twelve months and I'd love to add some of your recommendations to my to read list!

Jess x 

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