Booking Through Thursday posts a weekly bookish question to respond to in a blog post.
This week’s question: What books were you required to read that you ended up loving?
As an English Literature major in college, I had a lot of required reading. As an English Literature major, I also enjoyed a large amount of them, but I chose a few of the more surprising ones.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
This is a dark, extremely dense book about the horrors committed against natives by King Leopold of Belgium in the African Congo. I first encountered it in my high school AP Literature class. Most of my classmates detested the book, claiming it was too difficult to read and too full of description of locations and brutalities. I loved it precisely for that reason. Conrad evokes a haunting, primal sense of horror in his narrative that shook me to the core. As a lover of words and the ways they can be used to evoke emotion, I am particularly fond of books that focus on mood. Conrad’s mood was reminiscent of Wuthering Heights, another of my favorite books of all time for it’s haunting, primal tale of doomed lovers on the moors. I thought maybe it was a one time fluke, but I was required to reread Heart of Darkness four years later for a Literary Criticism course in college with similar results. My classmates detested it, but I was still ensnared by the evocative words and tone of the novel.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This book is notoriously difficult to read. Faulkner writes from four different perspectives in stream of consciousness style. The first quarter comes directly from the mind of Benjy, a mentally challenged boy, and the prose jumps around in time with no markers and no punctuation. Quentin’s section, which follows, is one of the darkest, most messed up minds in modern fiction. Of course, I loved every second of it, and was drawn in by the intensity of the prose, despite its difficulty. Faulkner comments on the breakdown of the family, of the insanity of human nature, and the conflict of the 19th century as it collides with the 20th.
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
The first semester of my junior year of college I took three novel intensive courses (19th Century British Novel, Fantasy Lit., and Civilizations of Literature) and I ended up with 37 novels to read in four brutal months, ten of them (from the British Novel segment, of course) being over 400 pages long. In a feat of sheer stubbornness, I actually read every single one of them. The Return of the Native came to me toward the end of that semester when my speed reading and comprehension skills were at all all time high. But I hardly needed the deadline to get me through this book. I couldn’t put it down. Wuthering Heights has been one of my favorite books for a long time, and to find a book that followed similar themes and tone–the ghostly, unearthly qualities of the moors/heath, a tale of romance and tragedy, etc.–was very exciting. So, for fans of tragic tales, romance, Wuthering Heights, horrible coincidences, ghost stories, and beautiful, haunting prose, this book is for you. Since that first night I read it, it has catapulted itself into position as one of my favorite books of all time.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthone
Ah, the quintessential freshman English book. Every year, thousands of teens are forced to read The Scarlet Letter and roll their eyes at outdated Puritan values. But The Scarlet Letter is so much more than that. I did not grow to appreciate Hawthorne until my sophomore year of college, when I wrote a paper on the fallibility of romanticism in the Scarlet Letter. It is timeless precisely because it deals with themes of alienation and hypocrisy that continue to plague man to this day.
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
Okay, I admit, I am an extreme weirdo for liking this book. We had to read an excerpt from it in my American Lit. class in college, and even the most hardy of English majors found it too dense and weird for them. I, of course, decided to read the entire thing and write my paper on it. Because I tended to do things like that to myself in college because if people told me “it’s too hard,” I had to prove them wrong. The Education of Henry Adams is essentially a philosophical critique of the 18th century and a treatise on the rediscovery of meaning in the 19th century. Naturally, it is excessively dense. Of course I loved it, and found Adams’s remarks on his family history (he is the grandson of President John Adams) as well as his comments on 19th century scientific developments fascinating. I don’t even really recommend this to anyone because you have to be a rather specific type of person to inflict this book on yourself.