Top 5 Books From This Semester As An English Major

You guys.

You guys.

This is the last full week of classes.

I’m still sort of reeling from this semester, to be totally honest. It’s been a whirlwind of activity and excitement and stress and tears. I feel less relieved to have it done and more shook, like I just get released from a tornado and now I need to find my footing on solid ground again.

Still, looking back, I’m glad I made it through. There’s been a lot of laughs and reading and progress and reading and learning and reading and reading and reading and reading…

So, as part of looking back on this semester, I figured that I’d make a list of the top five most interesting books that I read. These aren’t necessarily my top five favourite books – some of them I don’t even like at all, to be honest, but they are the top five most impactful, the top five that I definitely won’t forget reading. And so, if you’re looking for something interesting to read, feel free to look through this list and decide for yourself!

1. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

This book makes it on the list simply by being my favourite book from this semester. Read for my class on Gothic literature, this novel tells the story of a young woman who longs to become pregnant, but once she does, begins to suspect that there might be a plot to cause harm to either her or her child. You might be familiar with the 1968 Mia Farrow movie that this book inspired, and the book actually isn’t all that far off. The writing is very cute, doing a great job of capturing real moments between Rosemary and the people around her, and managing to make certain characters very endearing (Rosemary and Hutch in particular), and other characters very despicable (Guy in particular). And plus, come on, how could this book not make my list? It’s a Gothic text with a feminist slant, of course I was going to choose it!

After reading this novel, I’m definitely interested to check out other work from Ira Levin. But for now, what else can I say besides it’s a good read and you should definitely check it out when you have a chance.

2. In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate

This book might be slightly closer to what you thought of when I said that I was going to list off my favourite books from my university classes this semester. Written by a Canadian doctor who works intimately with patients who are homeless and addicted to hard drugs (particularly cocaine and heroin), this book describes real-life stories between him and his patients, and then continues on to discuss the science behind addiction. I read this book for my class on Writers and Drugs, and I can’t say that this class takes a particularly scientific approach to the issue, so I’m no expert on whether or not the science found in this book is entirely sound. But I will say that this book does an excellent job of humanizing people who I’ve honestly never spoken to. The people who Mate works with are people who I’ve seen before, of course, just passing by them on the street, but their perspective has always been so alien from mine, so difficult to understand, and this book did a lot to help bridge that gap for me. I don’t think that this is a book that I’ll soon forget because of that. It really taught me a lot about addiction as well, it being a topic that I’d never really thought much of until then (I honestly just took the course because it sounded like the most interesting one that fit in my time table). And so, if you have some time to kill, are looking for a new book, and want to learn more about your fellow man and/or addiction, I’d definitely recommend this one as a great read.

3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

To be totally honest, this is a book I’ve read before, two summers ago for fun. And then again last year. And then again this year. I kind of like this book, if you can’t tell. Another one from my Gothic literature class, this novel tells the story of a young woman named Eleanor who’s invited out to a supposedly haunted house as part of a scientific exploration of ghosts. To be honest, a good part of the reason that I like it is just because I like the writing style. I think that Shirley Jackson has a good, dry sense of humour, and I find her characters very fun and likeable (shout out to Theo, who I plan to be when I grow up). Not only that, but a good part of the reason that I’ve read this book so many times is because it’s taken me that many readings to even just think that I understand what’s going on in the book. A lot of it is sort of left up to interpretation, and not necessarily in a what-the-hell-is-going-on-I-don’t-understand-any-of-this sort of way. More in a what-does-this-mean-it-has-to-mean-something sort of way.

While I don’t know if I can say that this is a feminist story (that was a discussion in my class, and I have to admit, the very fact that it was written in the 1950’s does make it suspect), I find that it does deal with issues that feminists weren’t talking about at the time, but would later (in my class, I tried to make the argument that a lot of the conflicts in the novel arise because of Betty Friedan’s The Problem That Has No Name). But whether or not it does discuss these issues, it’s a novel that’s most certainly focused on issues around mental illness, and it’s discussion in that regard is definitely interesting.

If you’re looking for a fun little ghost story that you can definitely read more into if you want, check this book out. You don’t have to read it three times if you don’t want to, but definitely try it at least once!

4. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Oh boy. This one.

Let me preface this by saying: I don’t like this book. I think this is a book that is easy to not like. Read for my Contemporary Literature course, this one is more just an amalgamation of different little, half-sensical stories that Burroughs wrote while he was high off his ass and experimenting with the cut-up technique. It discusses in explicit detail sex (particularly homosexual sex), violence, drug use, rape, murder, pedophilia, and sort of reads like a twelve-year-old boy’s attempts to be shocking. Really, it’s the sort of book that a kid would pick up, read, and become obsessed with just because he can’t believe that something like that could actually exist.

But then I started doing research on William Burroughs himself and… I didn’t like him. Honestly, the guy was an unapologetic sexist who murdered his wife (yes, I know that there are some speculations that it was an accident). I found both him and his book just unpleasant, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I kept trying to find excuses to talk about it. Maybe that’s just the effect that something as grotesque as this has on a person. Or maybe I was just fascinated by how much of an influence something as stupid as this had on society. After all, this was one of the very first explicit explorations of homosexual sexuality in literature, and it has to deserve some respect for that. And so, as much as I hated this book and will never read it again, it definitely earns a place on this list for the sake of being just so influential. And if you want to read it, even after everything I’ve said, I say go ahead. It may not be a good read (in my opinion, anyway), but it’s definitely an interesting one.

5. Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart by Chretien de Troye

So I took a class on Arthurian literature this semester, and I’ve sort of loved all of the reading equally. It’s almost difficult to pick out just one for this list, but I told myself I would, just because a lot of these stories are very similar, all of them being about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and all that.

So if I have to pick out just one, which one?

Well, how about the love story where Queen Guinevere totally cheats on her husband and it’s barely even regarded as a deal?

Perfect!

Honestly, if you’re looking to read Arthurian literature, I think this one would be a good place to start. It’s very similar to what you’d expect it to be, as the entire story is focused solely on Lancelot, the perfect and daring Knight, going through all manner of trials and tribulations in order to rescue his lady love. And, fortunately, it has just enough of that Middle Ages weirdness to it to make it funny for the contemporary reader (for example, when a woman asks Lancelot to sleep with her, and he has no choice but to agree because he’s a knight, and knights aren’t allowed to say no to a lady).

If you want to read it, this is one that you can find online through a simple Google search, but make sure you look for it in translation. Nobody wants to have to deal with Middle English.

 

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