“How Haven’t You Read That Yet?”: College Edition

Infinite Jest openbookWith college graduation season upon us, I thought it would be fun to compile a post of some well-known “classics” and canon favorites that I was not subjected to during my four years at university.

One of my favorite things about being an English major is that you’ve more-than-likely had an entirely unique and different experience from other English majors because so much of the course of study is based on the works you read. Yes, all English majors will learn about Modernism and Romanticism and Structuralism, but you will not learn it through the same exact lens.

Some professors prefer post-World War II literature while others have a particular soft spot for the Puritans. Some professors teach white men and white men only while others tend to focus on women writers and writers of color (though not nearly enough of them). Some professors find poetry in Hemingway’s prose while others would choose Fitzgerald every time. And there will always be the band of purists who believe Shakespeare is (and always will be) the end-all be-all of literature.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that you could sit in a room full of English majors and the chances of them having the exact same course of study is slim-to-none, which is pretty cool if you ask me. However, it does leave room for certain important works and even authors to slip through the cracks of study, which is a shame.

So, without further adieu, here are some of the popular novels I didn’t read during college:

Frankenstein1. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Having taken a Science Fiction course, I would have thought we would have read Mary Shelley, as she is often referred to as the “mother of science fiction.” For a genre that has become a bit of a boy’s club, the title is awe-inspiring as Shelley was only eighteen when she starting writing Frankenstein. The book itself has become a bit of a cultural Frankenstein itself—bastardized bits have made their way into the public psyche, but not many know Shelley’s version…myself included. 

Hamlet2. Hamlet, Shakespeare

I know. I know. How is this even possible right? It’s like not reading Romeo and Juliet (I have. Don’t you worry). I just never had a professor who assigned the work (it seems to be more of high school favorite, but I wasn’t assigned it there either). My professors chose instead to focus on the playwright’s sonnets, King Lear, and Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe the fact that I chose 21st-Century Literature over the Shakespeare courses played a part in being denied Hamlet, but I did take a Drama class, so the odds were sort-of, kind-of in my favor.

The Picture of Dorian Gray3. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Even though I have not read Wilde’s only published novel, I was thankfully not denied his wit while in college—I was assigned The Importance of Being Earnest twice during my time at school (which I loved, loved, loved). This novel isn’t as popular on syllabi as I imagine it once was, but I do know people who were able to find the beautiful horror in Wilde’s timeless protagonist (get it?). Unfortunately, I was not one of them. 

 

4. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On the Road

Now, I know this isn’t a “classic” per say, but it was a staple on many professor’s syllabli, except for mine that is. I think it is very much a college text in the sense that Kerouac (and the Beat Generation) generally embodies the rebellion and recklessness and existential crises that define people of “typical” university age. I wasn’t completely denied Kerouac’s spontaneous prose though; I read his short story “Home at Christmas,” which I enjoyed quite a bit. If On the Road is anywhere near as tactile and visceral as that prose piece, I can see myself being way more fair to Kerouac in the future.

These may not be the most well-known or most-read texts, but they were big ones that I felt were missing from my English major curriculum. There were some authors who I missed out on completely like William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, and Vladimir Nabokov. But I was lucky enough to have read amazing writers like Edwidge Danticat, bell hooks, and David Foster Wallace.

I guess the only answer is to try to read all the works I missed out on. Better late than never, as they say.

*               *               *

What “classic” books did you not read during college? What’s the most “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?” book? Have I lost all my credibility as a book blogger? (Don’t answer that last one)

 

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9 thoughts on ““How Haven’t You Read That Yet?”: College Edition

  1. Mollycat says:

    People are *shocked* to hear I’ve never read Dickens, the Brontes (although I “read” Jane Eyre in high school), and Hemingway & Fitzgerald’s novels. Also, everything on this list except for Hamlet. There are definitely others that I’m forgetting, but those are the big ones.

    • That Worn Book Smell says:

      I’ve read at least one work from all of those authors, but only Dickens and Bronte in college. I feel like people assume just because you’re an English major you’ve read all the “big” authors and their works, which is next to impossible!

  2. 2writeRnot2write says:

    This is a great post! I have been reading all my life and read very few, if any, ‘classic’ books. I filled my time with the books that interested me and no one really took the time to show me the beauty of these books till recently. I look forward to exploring more of the classics and your blog!

    -cya

    • That Worn Book Smell says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      I think your approach to reading is a great one. Why read anything that doesn’t interest you? Yes, some classics are amazing and wonderful and still resonate today, but others don’t. Personally, I think it’s important to explore the canon (and classics) based on your personal tastes, and not based on what something said you should read.

      I’m glad you like the blog!

  3. Julia says:

    I read Frankenstein in high school and it was one of my least favorite books I’ve read. She would spend 20 page spans talking about scenery. My 16 year-old self had no patience for it.

    • That Worn Book Smell says:

      I’ve definitely heard mixed things about Frankenstein, but I would still like to read it eventually. I don’t think 16-year-old me would have had the patience either, but I like to think 22-year-old me does.

      Thanks for reading, Julia! Hope all is well with you!

  4. Eric Trommater says:

    I so wish we had the internet when I was in College. I was Arts editor for my College Newspaper and printed ‘Howl’ one week just to see if we would get a reaction and the only response was from an English Prof who pointed out a typo.

    • That Worn Book Smell says:

      What a coincidence! I was also the Arts Editor for my college’s newspaper.

      That’s a really funny story. The internet really did help with having a greater audience – one click and you can read the article; another click and you can share it with a friend. It’s also easier to get a response from readers, which can be a good (and sometimes bad) thing. Also, English Professors tend to read campus newspapers way more than they’ll admit – I had a few attest to that!

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