As a final year English undergraduate, I have come across and have had to read a great deal of books and poetry. This is not surprising, however it got me thinking about what i like to read, what i don’t like, what i used to read and what i will be reading in the future. I always disagreed with ‘the ten books you HAVE to read’ and ‘5 classics you MUST read’. When representing the English department at a University open day, a number of prospective applicants asked me ‘how much do you have to read?’, ‘how much should you have read?’ and ‘do i have to do a lot of reading?’ (That last one is definitely not a joke). My answer? ‘Read as much as you can, don’t read everything else what’s the point in applying, but most importantly…read what interests you.’ Their reaction? A confused nod, a surprised vacant expression. Why have we grown up being told what to read, how to write and what to do in our spare time? Where’s the creativity and freedom of individuality in that?
However, i bring you this post to subvert the norm of being told what to read, and instead i invite you to consider the books you may not necessarily have thought of, heard of, or even contemplated. I have been happily surprised in my three years of study, and with my plans for an MA next year, i hope this will continue. Let’s take a look at my top 5, and then you can decide for yourselves.
5. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Recently studying a module in Children’s Literature has enabled me to re-read the classic, The Secret Garden. Whilst bringing back memories of replaying the film over and over again to my family’s frustration and annoyance all those years ago, this book is a fantastic one to read if you’re a teenager, child or a twenty-something-not-quite-an-adolescent-but-not-mentally-an-adult-either like me. Magic, childhood, freedom, escapism and the natural world are all elements in this ‘classic’ and there is so much to draw out of this novel, whether you need to prep a presentation on it, or just wanting to enjoy a stimulating book. Whilst the film isn’t entirely true to the book, the tantalising storyline and appeal is not outdated. Readers might also enjoy A Little Princess.
4. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens.
Studying an English degree is not complete without reading a hefty Dickensian novel at least once. However, even non-english students can enjoy what Dickens has to offer. Never shy of hundreds of pages and wordy, lengthy descriptions, Dickens gives you value for your money. David Copperfield is by far my favourite Dickens novel, and whilst i sometimes struggle with his other novels, this one is an exception. The narrrator is likeable (for once), the plot is enticing and this is the one novel i have truly been immersed in without realising. Protagonist, David Copperfield (unsurprisingly) grows mentally and physically, and us as readers are invited along with that journey. A fantastic Victorian novel that is fundamental to English studies, but also studies on the human condition, and the past if you’re a history buff.
3. Vathek, William Beckford.
This is an uncommon novel to put on this list, but an 18th century legendary piece of work. The Gothic novel has been incredibly popular ever since its official birth in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, however Vathek is completely something else. Incredibly odd, strange and weird, Vathek is a piece you can get your teeth into, and have a good old chuckle whilst you do so. With elements ranging from an old man rolling into a ball and being kicked by Vathek, to the endless imagery of humans as animals, Vathek guarantees to have something weirdly delightful for those interested in something different.
2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières.
No set of book lists is complete without a hopelessly romantic novel. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a personal favourite of mine ever since my school years. Nicholas Cage or not, i could not help but fall in love (fictionally of course) with Captain Corelli. Pelagia, though annoying at times, is the perfect match for Corelli, and without wanting to spoil the plot too much, tears of joy, sadness and glee were expressed whilst reading this novel. The history element is huge in this novel, and a fascinating one at that. Focusing on the Italian and German occupation of World War II there is more to this novel than just the romantic aspect, reflecting that in life love sometimes comes second to the greater external problems going on around you.
1. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
After much deliberation and thought, i have decided to make Wuthering Heights my number one choice of book you may like to read. At heart, i’m much more of a poetry obsessive, however as a novel convert, Emily Bronte excels in this Victorian work and makes a proud name for herself as a female writer, and an incredibly gifted one at that. Heathcliff and Cathy are two of the biggest fictional names in the field of not only Victorian literature, but literature in general. Placed on the syllabus for GCSE, AS, and A level, this speaks volumes as to why Wuthering Heights is such an important novel to read, and not just for educational reasons. Gothic elements, romance, passion, restraints and the aspect of time are all present in this novel; every English student’s ideal essay text, but for the everyday reader as well. This book is a unisex book, with elements that will impress and affect both females and males. Whilst Kate Bush’s song may entice you to read the book, i reiterate this as it is truly a remarkable piece of fiction.
After a lot of deciding, umming and ahhing, that is my top 5 books you might like to read. Again, there is no obligation, just a set of opinions. I have thoroughly enjoyed the above for various reasons, preferences and due to personal taste, and i am sure many of you will have your own collection of favourites too. Whatever your taste, keep with the reading, as i’ve been shown that studying literature is actually a study into the human mind.