In the sixteen long years I’ve spent in education I’ve sighed in unhappiness with nearly every reading list I’ve been presented in English class. So many dry, boring classics and not nearly enough modern stuff, or ones that I’d actually like to read! So here it is, my English Literature Reading List:
UK or US, they’re just phenomenal
Junk, Melvin Burgess - This book needs very little introduction. A dark, gritty and unflinching look at drugs, prostitution and the reality of life for some teenagers. It’s eye-opening and a really good way to open a discussion about boundaries in fiction, especially younger fiction, and even book banning.
How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff – One of my favourite books of all time, How I Live Now is a great book to launch a study of narrative styles. With no speech marks, sparse paragraphing and a near stream of consciousness narration, it’s unusual and a definite Marmite type of style that should inspire some conflicting opinions!
Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson – In the media at the moment, rape culture and attitudes to women who have been the victims of it are being discussed, and it’s important that boys and girls alike
Graceling, Kristin Cashore – Being only a few years old, this hasn’t reached legendary status just yet, but I have no doubt that it will. With strong but subtle feminist themes this could help to stop some prejudice against genre fiction that seems to lie in academia. Modern fantasy can do everything that the classics do, but with a slice of relatability that novels from the Nineteenth Century just can’t.
Classics of English Literature
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf – Last year I did an entire module on the writings of Virginia Woolf. She was a fascinating, extraordinarily clever and ground-breaking woman and writing. And yet I struggled with her books immensely; they were just that step too far for me, in elevation of ideas and in an ability to keep me interested. But this, I loved. A look at feminism, writing and authorship that I flew through.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley – This is probably the best book that I read while I was at school. I studied it for A-level and read it three times of my own volition. The ideas behind the novel are captivating, along with the writing and the imagery, and the creepy, gruesome moments will appeal to the boys as well!
The Island of Doctor Moreau, HG Wells – I hated this when I first read it and started studying it, but it grew on me. Moreau is twisted and captivating and his experiments throw so many things into question. It’s also short, fast-paced and full of drama and action.
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen – My very favourite Jane Austen novel. I love the Dashwood sisters, particularly Elinor, and they really provide an interesting family dynamic to discuss. That ties into many class and social constructions that I think is often overlooked in Austen’s work by some academics who see her as a romantic novelist.
Anything goes form the US of A
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald – I only read this recently, just before the film was released, and I fell in love with it. With an abundance of symbolism and themes, the exploration of the Jazz Age and the encroaching Wall Street Crash and Great Depression, The Great Gatsby would be a fantastic GCSE text for students studying the 20s in America in History. It’ll bring the whole thing to life.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – This has never been a set text for me and I just can't understand why. It’s a novel that everyone knows about and I still haven’t read it, though it is up next for my Blast From the Past feature. It’s said to be a remarkable coming-of-age novel that looks at racism in a new way.
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger – Another modern American classic that I should have read by now but haven’t! The ultimate coming of age novel with a notoriously unreliable narrator, this should capture even the most reluctant person in the English class. Or so I’ve been told.
So there you go. I would have been overjoyed to have this reading list up on the board on in the handbook on the first day of the school year!
What would you add? Do you disagree with any of my choices? What was your favourite set text at school/university?