{in which i fail as an english major}

Yesterday, Gabe Habash posted his Literary Wall of Shame on the Publishers Weekly blog, and it inspired me to do the same. As an English major with a huge weakness for history and a stubborn inability to understand anything theoretical, I managed to obtain my B.A. with a solid grounding in 18th- and 19th-century literature, but not a whole lot else. I’ve always been aware that there were some glaring holes in my reputation as a bibliophile, and I decided to take this opportunity to face them head-on.

Ten Books/Authors That I Haven’t Read and Probably Should (Or, Things I Pretend to Have Read So I Won’t Sound Stupid)

1. Virginia Woolf. Pretty sure Woolf is equal only to Shakespeare and the Bible for the number of times she is referenced in/compared to/thanked by all of modern Western literature. Also, I really want to see The Hours and understand what’s going on.

2. (More) Dickens. This is really the most shocking omission, considering my education in Victorian literature. Technically, I’ve read three of his books (and dear God, who could forget the brilliance of A Tale of Two Cities?), but that’s still pretty shameful. I find Dickens amazing in small portions, but somehow can rarely muster up the endurance to conquer a whole book.

3. James Joyce. The “real” English majors at my college studied Ulysses for an entire year as their senior seminar. I, obviously, chose historical fiction instead. Since then, I’ve always felt unworthy to share their degree.

4. The Clockwork Orange. This book tops my list of “literary theory books,” namely because of that Connor guy. I recently read part of his undergraduate honors thesis, which was about something pretty important in this book that I can’t remember at the moment. He was looking for some constructive criticism, which I supplied by deleting a lot of commas and erroneously changing “aesthetics” to a plural noun.

5. Ayn Rand. I can’t even count the number of times Atlas Shrugged has come up on a Sporcle literature quiz. Plus, they talk about her a lot on Mad Men, so she must be pretty good.

6. Lolita. I always see people reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, which makes me feel like I’m missing out on something.

7. (More) Tolkein. Okay. This one I really just don’t get. I did have The Hobbit read aloud to me, but I was ten years old and overwhelmingly bored by it. I honestly tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring last year, but didn’t make it past Bilbo’s surprisingly dull birthday party. I would say it’s just one of those things you have to grow up reading, but I honestly can’t imagine myself loving these at any age.

8. (More) Steinbeck. I read Cannery Row in middle school and quite liked it. Every once in a while, I’ll ironically reference Of Mice and Men and hope that no one sees through to my ignorance. Just one of those authors I’ve never gotten around to, I guess.

9. The Divine Comedy. Because I feel like a poser every time I laugh maniacally at this.

10. Paradise Lost. Milton is so important that he is one of three authors that all English majors at my school must study. I, obviously, took the easy way out and went with Shakespeare. The other option was Chaucer, but I felt that I’d said “pil-grim-AHJ-es” and “kn-ICHT” enough times while studying the Great Vowel Shift (!!) to consider myself exempt.

I’m now realizing that exactly zero of these have even heard of Madonna, so maybe my tastes run a little to the outdated side. I’ll throw in a bonus #11 of The Hunger Games, since I can’t spend more than 5 minutes on Facebook without someone posting a movie trailer. Probably should get on that.

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4 responses

  1. Hey, cool blog you’ve got here! I’m not a fan of Lord of the Rings either (barely understood the movies) and I’ve only read one book by V-Woolf (Orlando). Maybe we should start an ex-English major book club to catch up on everything we didn’t read in college!

    Also, Today Amazon.com recommended that I buy The Portable Chaucer: Revised Edition. Uhh, NO THANKS. Where did you learn about the Great Vowel Shift? In a class? Currently wiki-ing it. 🙂

    • Haha I studied the Great Vowel Shift in one of my English elective classes, History of the English Language. It was pretty epic—the professor was basically coming out of retirement to teach one last class, and the 8 other people in the class were all suuuuuper nerdy history-buff English majors. Basically my favorite class ever.

  2. If I made a list like this, it’d look almost exactly the same…so many classics, so little time! Or attention span, in my case. I know what you mean about Dickens–he’s glorious, but so very hard to commit to. In our defense, though, the guy was paid by the word (so I’m told), so it’s no wonder that his books are daunting.

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