When I went and got my Bachelor of Arts, I had the opportunity to do a very untraditional English degree. Every course I took was special, and most of what I studied wasn’t classic British literature like most English degrees. I had to study the major authors from Beowulf to the Beat poets, and some Shakespeare. But that only took three courses: 9 of my 126 credits. I’ll give you a brief look at the courses I won’t be talking about here: I took a few women’s literature and gender studies classes, lots of Canadian lit, children’s lit, and special topics courses like Guilt and Innocence American Literature, Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, and Nonhuman Consciousness.
Now I’ll get into the courses we’re here for. The list of my top five favourites, in no order:
– Fairy Tale Variants and Transformations
– Women’s Memoirs: Talking Back
– Prison Literature in British Columbia
– Little Houses on the Canadian Prairie
– African Literature
Every course I took was cool and fun, but these have stuck out and stayed with me for various reasons. I wanted to take some time to talk about the why of each one so I can give some of you an example of what some English degrees are morphing into here.
The first course to talk about is Fairy Tale Variants and Transformations. When I heard the title, I knew I had to take it. It was even better than I thought. We focused on three different fairy tales: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Blackbeard. We must have read between ten and fifteen versions of each and studied the similarities and differences. This class changed my reading habits completely: I fell in love with fairy tale retellings. If you scroll through the main page here, you’ll see that quite a few of the reviews are tagged “fairy tale”. Each retelling has its own beautiful structure, based around a classic story of love. I love The Lunar Chronicles, the Disney Twisted Tales, and Heartless. There are many others less recognizable, and still others that aren’t in the format of a novel. I enjoyed studying the stories and writing essays about them, but I will always thank that class for introducing me to the astonishing variety of fairy tales.
Next is Women’s Memoirs: Talking Back. The representation of different women’s voices in these readings was heartwarming. I was so pleased to take a class filled with women’s history told by the women who lived it. Each memoir was a beautiful journey, with some women travelling around the globe while others spent their time travelling inside themselves. Honestly, this class changed my reading habits too. I have continued buying and reading memoirs of Canadian, Indigenous, and Métis voices, and others that pique my interest. There are so many people out there who are trying to tell their stories, and each one of them gives a piece of history they swept away back to us. No, they are not objective histories, but neither are the textbooks. The value of the memories and the memoirs born from them is priceless.
Prison Literature in British Columbia might be my favourite ever, but it’s hard to say for sure next to the others on this list. I love learning about my country and learning about the prison system in my province was so intriguing. We read accounts written by actual inmates and those serving life sentences for some very serious crimes. The most interesting book that we read was Paroled for Life, a compilation of stories from those inmates documenting their situations and describing how the prison system here in BC never lets you go. We heard about the famous McLean gang in our own history through the novel by George Bowering, Shoot!. Throughout this course, I felt how special it was. I knew that this was a unique class that was possible because of that professor. I am so thankful to have taken that class because I gained a greater understanding of the place that I’m from, and that’s invaluable.
Little Houses on the Canadian Prairie was an amazing class that had me rethinking the beginnings of our country. We talked about the migration that happened into Canada from various places in Europe, then later focused on the settling of the Prairies. While part of this class focused on the original diaries and documentation written by the men who explored to find suitable land, we also read fictional accounts of life in those areas from the point of view of those who bought that land and spent their lives trying to work the difficult soil. It gave me a varied and more accurate picture of how my country came to be. As usual, on the back of those pushed into less fortunate positions.
The most interesting course I took was African Literature. It rounded out my literary experience and introduced more diversity to my education. Most people are familiar with one piece of African literature: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. We read that first for context, but it’s a negative account of the people who lived there because it focuses on the perspective of the white men. Everything else we read in the course was from an African perspective, though fictionalized and written more recently. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda, and A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul were on the list and they were all much more interesting stories. I enjoyed learning about such a vastly different culture than my own, and it was one of the classes that made me realize the importance of reading from as many viewpoints as possible.
If you head on over to my Instagram, you’ll see all the books I read for these courses. I kept most of the novels I bought for my classes, but these still hold a special spot on my bookshelves. Thank you for reading!
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