Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Anything with a bit of gore is enough to get us English students all excited. Especially when you get to watch film scenes in the lectures.
What’s even more impressive about Frankenstein, though, is that Mary Shelley was just 18 when she started writing it. And 20 when it was published. This is one of those “so what have you done with your life so far?” moments. Which makes me slightly uncomfortable, considering I’ve spent most of today hungover in bed eating ice cream out of the tub.
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Spoiler alert: she gets the guy.
Jane Austen divides opinions among English students – but I’ve definitely got a soft spot for pretty much everything she’s ever written. Yes, maybe her heroines do spend an obscene amount of time either swooning or attending dances. And for Austen, “happily ever after” is synonymous with bagging a husband by the final page.
But Anne Elliot’s a smart gal. And Austen does deal with some pretty complex themes here. A critique of class rigidity and social mobility, Persuasion also explores the benefits of following your own convictions versus being… well. Persuaded.
Germany: A New History – Hagen Schulze
Here’s your token “not from an English module” pick. In all seriousness though, it deserves to be on the list.
Having dropped History when our KS3 class was still watching Saving Private Ryan every other lesson, the thought of doing a History module at university terrified me. But this book was my saviour (and the source of about 80% of my essay references.)
Schulze digs right to the very beginning of German history here – we’re talking Roman times – before taking us through the centuries, giving a nod to all other important events. It’s all wonderfully readable. Non-History-student seal of approval? Check.
Paradise Lost – John Milton
In hindsight, taking this on a girls’ holiday to Corfu was never going to end well. But what can I say? I was pre-fresh. Panicking that I’d have to get through the whole reading list before the start of university, I think I managed about two thirds of this hefty tome – mostly cowering in the shade at the poolside, squinting through a hangover-fog and trying to overcome the vodka shakes.
The Rape of the Lock – Alexander Pope
It’s satire, I get it. And Pope’s totally using the dramatic and heroic language to make a point about how un-dramatic the subject matter actually is, while also aiming a sideways blow at 18th century beauty standards and the objectification of women.
It’s just… I thought this was about an actual rape. And while that’s a horrible subject, at least it promised me an interesting train ride. So imagine my disappointment when I realised that The Rape of the Lock is actually about some girl flipping out when a guy cuts off a bit of her hair. Oh, if only Jeremy Kyle had been born a few centuries earlier…
A Report to an Academy / Ein Bericht für eine Akademie – Franz Kafka
Fancy a bit of self-deprecation in another language? Well, Rotpeter’s got a story that’s right up your street. Our early 20th century narrator is an ape who, after being captured by a hunting expedition and brought to Europe, decides his only means of escape is to try and imitate the humans who have imprisoned him.
He learns to spit, smoke and drink Schnapps, before becoming an accomplished composer and musician. Imitating humans is fairly easy for Rotpeter, it seems. Basically, this indirect critique of our society and values will probably leave you with a deep hatred of humanity. Or it could just leave you really confused.