Now beside the possibly pretentious title I did really want to write this. Not because I think I know it all and believe I am the fountain of all knowledge when it comes to reading but because I’ve genuinely received something from each and every one of these books.
To me I find walking into a library or a book shop really overwhelming. I’ll pick up one book thinking it sounds great but then put it straight back in the thought that there could be something better around the corner. Unless I know what I am going in for, I can almost guarantee you I will come out empty handed.
In a lot of respects that is why I like my course so much. I get educated on history, world views and issues, language, the birth of societal norms and stereotypes and finally, the evolution of the world, all from reading literature. A lot of the time people view an English Lit. course as a waste of time but I would not have received the chance to broaden my horizons and my character without it. I would still be picking up and setting down books in shops, overwhelmed and possibly naive with the world.
So, I thought I’d share 5 of my absolute favourite books from my course thus far (I am currently in my third year). Each book is a piece of fiction and each are extremely important in their own form but together might make you look at things slightly differently.
Book 1 – Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a classic piece of literature. Very short in form with it being a ‘shilling shocker’ but all the same it is extremely captivating. Stevenson managed to create a whole new form of character identity within the split persona that went on to influence many thrillers and horrors you probably watch today. I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, Stevenson’s focus on good vs. evil is highly applicable to today and is probably why it remains so popular.
If you want a short read and love stories centred around crime, mystery, science and relationships then this is definitely for you! Plus he was Scottish writer so what’s not to love!?
Book 2 – Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
This is a more recent read but one I think would be important to add to anyones reading list. I must admit I have found Virginia Woolf’s reading particularly difficult to read in the past however I must give an exception to this particular novel. It’s written as a biography on Orlando inspired by Woolf’s relationship with Vita-Sackville West. Orlando is one of the first representations of a trans woman in literature, an inspiring tale which documents some of the hardships one faces being a woman, especially a trans woman in that era.
Woolf explores what it means to be female, a major part of this novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. Her narrative was gripping and both educated and informed me on the issues trans women face.
Book 3 – Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
Education through literature is one of the main things I am extremely grateful for. I think a lot of people believe we have to pick up non fiction books to become educated on matters of race, religion, gender, society, politics etc. but that is simply not the case. It is through reading and understanding experience that we can truly understand issues of representation and why such attitudes were created.
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one of my favourite novels, one I picked up in my second year. Detailing the story of Okonkwo we see the life of an African tribesman and the difficulty he faces when colonisers come to take over his territory. This novel is important for many reasons. To start with it is one of the first representations of African life that is not depicted through the eyes of a white man. Moreover, we see how colonisation really took affect and disrupted life for so many.
One of my favourite things Achebe has said is, “African people did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans […] their societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and beauty […] they had poetry and, above all, dignity.’ He highlights how his novel is there to depict how Africans were not brainless or culturally ignorant like many white men depicted them. African people have lives and a rich history one that existed before the colonisers arrived. A fact which seemed to be disregarded in literature and politics of the time. Achebe’s novel is one I could write about for ages but would probably disinterest you at some point. So instead, I implore you to give it a read. It’s engaging, educational and throughly interesting. A personal must have for your reading list.
Book 4 – Madeline Miller’s Circe
Circe is a reasonably new book, one I had the pleasure of reading in first year when it was new on the literary scene. If you love books based on myth and fantasy then you are bound to enjoy this.
The novel is a good example of how social issues can be intertwined into fiction, especially in places you would not necessarily think to find it. Circe deals with important themes of womanhood, abortion and fertility. A novel with significance to todays political climate as abortion is featured heavily across the world right now (read up on the horrible new laws in Poland for context).
Sarah Waters’ Affinity
This was another new read for me as it is part of my third year reading list. It tells the story of Selina Dawes, a spiritualist in a Victorian prison who plays with the mind of Margaret Prior, a Lady who visits the prison to conceptualise and understand her own mental ‘issues’.
Waters’ book is a mystery focussing on the life of both Dawes and Prior who eventually come together in this mysterious yet captivating story. It took me about the first quarter of the book to fully get into it but once you understand and are immersed into the novel you will not want to put it down.
As part of my course we looked into the idea of power and knowledge when it comes to prisons and the justice system. So, if that in any way interests you or you like stories based on magic and mystery then this will be right up your street.
As I said above, looking for new books can be daunting especially if you are looking for something with more critical merit or educational value. In that sense I hope you found this both interesting and informative.
I must also add that these books are in no way difficult to read, although Shakespeare is important I do not enjoy and nor would I recommend him to you (that is not to say his plays etc. aren’t great to watch, I just reallyyyy wouldn’t recommend trying to read them without the opportunity to have them translated).
If you want any more recommendations check out the ‘review’ section of my blog where you’ll find more novels and TV shows.
Let me know if you end up picking any of them up (tag me on instagram or Facebook with the links below!) or if you have any further questions let me know below!