Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, and this week it’s a Back to School freebie! I decided to talk you through all of the books I had to read for university that I really enjoyed.
Way back when I started university, I was really intimidated by the reading lists. I know that assigned reading is, for the most part, no fun at all. I was expecting to read boring books that I’d completely hate, and so many people who had done literature degrees had said how all the assigned reading had really put them off reading for fun. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case for me. While I definitely didn’t read every book on the many reading lists we were given, I did manage to find a few gems in the books I managed to read, so here they are in no particular order! The covers of each will take you to the Goodreads pages.
1. THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD
I had to read this in my second year of university for a module on 20th and 21st Century literature, which had a focus on alienation and dystopia. Like most people, I got really into dystopian fiction after reading The Hunger Games, so naturally I wanted to read this. It’s always a plus when you have to read a book that you actually want to read, and this didn’t disappoint. I loved reading it and I loved studying it. It’s the first and only Atwood that I’ve read, but I do have her Madaddam triology to read!
2. MRS DALLOWAY BY VIRGINIA WOOLF
This is another book that I had to read for my 20th and 21st Century literature module, and one that I was incredibly hesitant about. I was really intimidated by Virginia Woolf, and honestly, if it hadn’t have been assigned this book, I probably never would have read anything by her beyond A Room of One’s Own. I did end up really liking this, even though I know a lot of people in my class didn’t. I’m definitely interested in picking up more Virginia Woolf at some point.
3. THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY BY OSCAR WILDE
This one I had to read for a module I did in second year on the Victorian Novel, which honestly had one of the best reading lists of all the modules that I did at university. I’d been wanting to read it for a really long time, and my friend had actually bought me a copy of it before I’d even started university. I loved this, and would happily read it again.
4. LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET BY MARY ELIZABETH BRADDON
This is another one that I had to read for my Victorian Novel module. I hadn’t even heard of this before seeing it on the reading list, so I had absolutely no expectations of it. Mostly I thought it would probably be kind of boring, and I was so happy to be wrong about that. This was really fast-paced, with a really great mystery. I ended up reading most of this in one sitting, which I haven’t done with a classic before or since.
5. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE BY SHIRLEY JACKSON
I read this in my third year for a module on the Gothic. A module that, quite ironically, ended up being a bit of a disaster. This was my favourite book on the module by a long way. I’ve since read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and I loved that too, so I’m incredibly glad to have discovered and author whose work I love through assigned reading. Because of this, I’m actually pretty determined to read all of Jackson’s novels!
6. THE ROAD BY CORMAC MCCARTHY
I had to read this for my Contemporary Genre module on the MA. We used this as a kind of jumping point to talk about apocalyptic fiction more generally, which is a genre I’m definitely a fan of. I’d always wanted to read this, but had heard that it was incredibly depressing. While that was mostly the case, I’m really glad I read it. I really enjoyed the writing style, which was actually what made me so hesitant to pick the book up. I liked is as an introduction to McCarthy’s work, and I’m definitely interested in reading more of his books as a result of reading this.
7. FLORENCE AND GILES BY JOHN HARDING
I also read this in third year, this time for a module on the Contemporary Gothic. It’s actually a retelling of The Turn of the Screw, which I actually didn’t like all that much, so I was completely blown away by this. I thought it was incredibly clever, and it was another one that I’d never heard of before seeing it on the reading list. I liked this book so much that it’s one of the books I’m currently writing on for my MA dissertation.
8. LUNAR PARK BY BRET EASTON ELLIS
This was also assigned reading for my Contemporary Gothic module, and one that I really did not expect to like. I’d previously read Ellis’ American Psycho, so to say that I was hesitant going into this is an understatement. This was really, really good, and I actually want to read more Bret Easton Ellis as a result of it. Which is something I never thought I’d say. This is very self-referential, to both Ellis and his work, so I’m not sure whether it’s going to be for everyone, but I was pleasantly surprised by it.
9. JANE EYRE BY CHARLOTTE BRONTE
This was another book for my Victorian Novel module, and another one of those “oh I guess I’ll read it eventually” books that I’m really glad I had to read. I was gripped by this, despite pretty much knowing the entire plot. It’s one that I think I’ll reread at some point in the future. I’m also very interested in Tracy Chevalier’s Reader, I Married Him, which is a collection of short stories based around Jane Eyre, because I also had to read Wide Sargasso Sea for a Postcolonial Literature module and really liked what that book did with the original.
10. THE NIGHT WATCH BY SARAH WATERS
I read this for the very first module on my MA, which was a module we took along with those on the Social History MA called Researching Cultures. Our focus on this module was World War Two, and comprised of both history focused and literature focused classes. The module was incredible stressful, so I’m glad the book was good! It ticked so many boxes for me, I absolutely loved the narrative structure and the way the storylines all intertwined. I’ll definitely be picking up more Sarah Waters as a result of this book.
So there you have it! Those are some of my favourite books that I read for university. Unfortunately, there are no prizes for guessing what my favourite modules were.
I actually have a couple of honourable mentions! First of all, I’d read 1984 by George Orwell before, but this was assigned for my 20th and 21st Century Literature module. I’d also read Stephen King’s The Shining and ‘Salem’s Lot before, but they were on the reading list for my Contemporary Gothic module, as was Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which I actually didn’t read in time for the module, but just finished up and really liked. I’m also currently reading Mark Z. Danielwski’s House of Leaves which was assigned reading for my Haunting the Contemporary module on my MA.
I could go on. Hopefully the fact that I enjoyed a good portion of the books that I read is reassuring for those of you who are or might be going to university soon or in the future. And like I said, there were a whole bunch of books that I didn’t get around to reading, so for all I know there could have been some potential favourites in those ones too!
As an aside, writing this post has made me realise how hesitant I am to give out 5 stars, even when I clearly loved the book…
I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these books, and what your thoughts were of them. I’m also interested to know how other people got on with their assigned reading, be it for university or otherwise!