A while back, I wrote a post about some of the best books that I’d had to read over the course of my academic career. These were books that I might not have read had they not been on the syllabus for a class. I’m pleased to say that my own horizons were greatly expanded by this. Here’s a few more of the titles that were part of my college life.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Like Beowulf from the first iteration of this post, I was familiar with the core story, but I’d never read the full text before. In my first literature class as an English major, we focused on British literature from the 19th century (this might explain my fascination with the Victorian era…). This was one of the first times I’d intensely studied the life of a writer and their times while simultaneously reading their work. The story of the creation of Frankenstein caught me almost as thoroughly as the narrative. I loved the idea of Mary Shelley taking part in a competition with her husband and friends to write the scariest story. Not just taking part, but completely rocking it, to the point where her single novel is more well-known than Percy Shelley’s collected works. Frankenstein is brooding, Gothic genius.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. While Johnny Depp did a fine job of portraying Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s perfectly trippy adaptation, there’s nothing like reading the novel itself. Part of that may just be the result of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations throughout the book. Thompson’s narrative weaves autobiographical elements and biting social commentary with detailed depictions of copious drug use. It’s stream-of-consciousness at its finest, and difficult to define in any other way. This one was assigned by the same American Literature professor who introduced me to the work of Alison Bechdel, and certainly caught the attention of the students in a manner unlike any other piece we read that semester.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. In my Modern British Literature class, we were given a book of short stories based on famous fairy tales. Let me start with this: these are NOT for kids. These are as dark (if not more so) than the Grimm Brothers’ versions, and are unflinching in their handling of the subject matter. They’re full of bold, strong women who handle traditional roles in non-traditional fashion. According to Carter, “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” These renditions of Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and others will leave you questioning what you might have missed in some of your other childhood favorites.
Reading is good for you, especially when you read outside of your usual range of authors or subjects. Branch out. Try something new. I hope that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.