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:
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.
2. 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.
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
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.
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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)