My literature degree is strange. I feel like that’s becoming more common, but I want to explain why these are my favourites and why you don’t see a lot of the books we normally think of when we say “literature”. Most of the classes I took during my degree were focused on modern literature and Canadian literature. I wanted to take classes that were relevant to me and the generations that are growing up now. This is a list of my favourite books that I read during those classes.
Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea
Jane Eyre was written in 1847 by Charlotte Brontë. I read it during a course in university called “Women in Literature: Voice, Identity and Difference”. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy reading Jane Eyre since I’m not a fan of Jane Austen’s work from earlier in that century, but it was for the right professor’s class, so I wanted to give it a good chance. I loved it. Unlike the Austen novels that bored the heck out of me, Jane Eyre was exciting. There was adventure, mystery, and a strange love story.
Wide Sargasso Sea was a strange prequel to Jane Eyre, written by Jean Rhys. It’s said to be a “postcolonial and feminist prequel” (Wikipedia) and I would have to agree with that. I liked it even more than Jane Eyre because of the different setting. It was set it Jamaica and told the story of Mr. Rochester’s wife Antoinette Cosway. It discusses the “madwomen in the attic”, which is a way of looking at Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. Male writers of the era tend to write female character as either angelic or mad, which Charlotte Brontë showed with Mr. Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. I love diving deeper into stories that I enjoyed the first time around, so learning about Antoinette brought so much more depth to Brontë’s world.
I can’t remember which class I read this book for, but it was one of the first-year English classes I took. The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a phenomenal read, taking place in a post apocalyptic society. It tells the story of the man and the boy who are travelling through this desolate world and trying to survive. There are other survivors who are unafraid of attacking the man and the boy to take any scraps they have in their shopping cart.
I enjoyed this novel for a few reasons. The biggest one is the disintegration of language. In the beginning, the language used is simple, but the sentences are complete. By the end of the novel, the sentences are fragmented as the world seems to do the same around the man and the boy. I plan to reread this novel soon, as it’s been so long since I read it the first time. I highly recommend it.
Things Fall Apart
I read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe during the fourth-year class “African Literature”. The title comes from the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. This novel is about the life of Okonkwo, a leader who was banished from his community after accidentally killing another member of the community. I found it to be an incredibly informative story about the history I had no knowledge of. The entire course was full of information, but I connected to this novel more than the others. I highly suggest checking it out if it sounds interesting, because I don’t want to spoil anything else in this post.
I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in either English 2210 or 2110, both of which were halves of the same lengthy course called “British Literature”. It covered many texts and poems from Beowulf all the way to the Beat poets of the 20th century. I had quite a few favourites come out of these two courses, but most of them were poems and Frankenstein was the only short story that I fell in love with. (Yes, I know its weird to say that I’m in love with these stories, but that’s the best way to explain how I feel about them.)
The two characters that we get to know during Frankenstein are Dr. Frankenstein himself and his monster, whose character develops over the course of the story. These two characters chase each other across continents to achieve their own goals: Frankenstein wants to kill his monster and his monster wishes to learn and live and even attempts to persuade Frankenstein to create a female for him. Though neither of them achieves quite what they wanted, they both learn incredible lessons about life.
If you ever want to read about time travel and aliens in a non-linear and interesting format, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a tremendously perfect read for you. As an avid fan of science-fiction, I knew that I would enjoy reading this novel once I found out what it was about. I was right. Slaughterhouse Five is one of those novels that made me question reality. I love those kinds of novels. I read it during a course called “American War Literature”, so this novel was discussed in relation to the war that’s happening in the background. I know that WWII was a part of the novel, but there were so many other events that there might have been another war included in the plot as well.
All these novels helped to make my degree enjoyable and gave me so much more insight into their genres. I hope that this list inspires you to pick up a literature novel! There are so many amazing ones out there that will change your perspective in a positive way, just like these ones have done for me. Do you have a favourite literature novel? Maybe more than one? Let me know!
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