6 Amazing Books I Only Read Because I Do An English Degree

As you’ll know if you’ve been my January and February wrap-ups, this year I have yet to finish a book for pleasure. I’m not sure if that’s because my workload is bigger, or if I’m just going through a slump generally, but either way, my wrap-ups have been pretty dull for the past couple of months and I apologise for that.

However, as I was putting together my February wrap up, I had a revelation – even though I’m only reading books for uni, it doesn’t mean I’m not loving the books I’m reading. In fact, a lot of the books I have been forced to consume for my degree have ended up being some of my favourites. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today, I’ve been through my shelves and I’ve narrowed it down to 6 amazing books I only picked up because I had to. Hopefully, you’re inspired to pick up a few of these yourself!

Disgrace

Disgrace by J M Coetzee

I read this in my second semester of first year, and honestly, I was getting really sick about reading about rape. For this particular module, it seemed that every book had rape in it somewhere, and it got pretty demoralising.

However, Disgrace was a breath of fresh air. I won’t tell you this book is happy, heck I won’t even tell you this book is rape-less, but it’s narrative, plot, characters, themes… well, everything was so well executed.

It’s one of the main reasons I’m hoping to take an African literature module next year, it’s a literary tradition I’d love to see more of.

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Malfi

A big part of my criteria for this list was that I wouldn’t include any book that I may have read without my degree, which basically ruled out all Chaucer and Shakespeare, but The Duchess of Malfi slots right in.

I’m going to be honest, my best uni friend absolutely hated it, so I will appreciate that it’s not for everyone, but I really liked it. It’s so easy to forget that Shakespeare isn’t the only Renaissance writer, but just because he’s the most famous doesn’t mean there aren’t other amazing plays out there waiting to be loved.
The Duchess of Malfi is another pretty dark piece, but it’s characters and staging are really interesting to analyse, I ended up using this one for one of my essays – it’s definitely worth a read.

(If you’re into Shakespeare and you haven’t checked out any other Renaissance texts, I’d also recommend checking out The Changeling and Dr Faustus, they’re also pretty amazing)

Jacobs

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

This is one of the few slave narratives written by a woman, and although I’ve only read a small number, I suspect this would still be high on my list even if I was a slave narrative expert.

Jacobs writes a very different depiction of slavery, one that’s domestic and familial. Her strength and determination are seen not only in the narrative itself but also in the context of how the book came to be published. It’s a wonderfully empowering novel that should form a part of any feminists reading list (heck, even if you’re not a feminist, providing you’re not a racist you’ll probably appreciate it).

BartlebyBartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

As I mentioned, American literature is not my first love, so I’ve never read Moby Dick. However, if Bartleby is any indication of Melville as a whole, I’m going to have to tackle Moby Dick soon!

This book (if you can even call it that, it’s super short) is amazing in its ability to be both funny, sinister and just beautifully written.

I have literally started using Bartleby’s ‘I would prefer not to’ in everyday life – sad, but true.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Wallpaper

Okay, if you have a spare hour any time this week, download this for free on the Kindle app and read it – it’s absolutely phenomenal. The Yellow Wallpaper is only about 35 pages long, but oh my you’ll want to read it again and again.

It’s a hard book to summarise, as it’s pretty much 35 pages of a woman talking about wallpaper patterns, but it’s a really interesting look at mental illness and how it was dealt with in days gone by.

If you’ve ever loved/considered reading any Sylvia Plath, this should definitely take a place on your TBR.

the-other-twoThe Other Two by Edith Wharton

I had to read this the same week as The Yellow Wallpaper, but it’s a very different story.

In many ways, this is like an Austen story (but I’m not a huge Austen fan so I wouldn’t let that deter you) but it’s humour is unique. Wharton’s writing style, although the sentences are long, is filled with incredible dialogue and interestingly, is written from the husband’s perspective, another defining feature.

Like The Yellow Wallpaper, this too is a very short read (I think it’s only about 23 pages or so). However, you can’t get it on Kindle, so have a Google, get yourself a PDF and read it, you won’t be disappointed (and even if you are, you’ve only wasted 45 minutes!)

***

I really hope you guys enjoyed this list, I’d love to hear about any books you guys have had to read for school or uni but ended up as one of your favourites.

Despite how much I loved all these books, I am looking forward to the summer when I’m hoping to finally get the chance to read for fun!

2 thoughts on “6 Amazing Books I Only Read Because I Do An English Degree

  1. I’ve read all of these except the first and last, which weren’t required for me. If you liked The Yellow Wallpaper, you should definitely consider some of Gilman’s other work. However, I will admit that Bartleby (and the other short stories) are my favorite Melvilles. Moby Dick had some interesting parts, but I find his writing better in the short form. Harriet Jacobs is great, and I’ll have to check out the Coetzee.

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