Tuesday, 15 October 2013

top ten tuesday: books i was forced to read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

top ten books i was 'forced' to read

This is quite the nostalgia trip! I'm twisting the meaning of this so that it's less focussed on 'forced to read' and instead features novels that I was encouraged to read for various school/uni classes and projects.

GCSE English Literature

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1984 by George Orwell

When my class revolted against having to read Hemingway (they objected to the endless pages describing hand cramp!), our teacher suggested 1984 as an alternative. That decision was quickly reversed when the class realised that 1984 was much longer and far more complex! I wasn't a particular fan of the Hemingway but as I liked history and was interested in the USSR, I really enjoyed 1984. It was the first dystopian novel I read and I'd encourage any fans of recent dystopias to check it out.

AS/A2 Level English Lit

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My experience of English Literature in the Sixth Form was very positive - I had wonderful teachers who were enthusiastic and engaged and tiny classes (in Year 13 there were only two of us!)- but the curriculum was a bit of a mixed bag! Worst of the lot was Heart of Darkness which I really didn't connect with (I'm not sure I ever finished it). At the other extreme however, was the A2 synoptic paper on Gothic Literature which I loved! We had to study a whole range of novels/short stories and poems for that module but the two that I really loved were The Bloody Chamber and Dracula. Also, as there were only two of us in my A2 class, when it came to choosing a novel on which to write our coursework, our teacher gave us complete freedom. I chose The Handmaid's Tale and wrote my essay on the various depictions of women in the novel - it was the first time I'd ever really considered gender in an academic piece of work, it has a lot to answer for!

MRes Dissertation

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

It's a bit of a cheat to include Rebecca on here as I'd read this before I studied it but I didn't fully appreciate it until I went back to study it in more detail this summer. I read all of these books this summer as part of my dissertation on adultery in interwar Britain. Of the four Rebecca is my favourite, followed by The Good Soldier which really is stylistically excellent though more than a little depressing. A Handful of Dust is hard to like as all of the characters are so ridiculous but Waugh's gift for razor-sharp wit is evident throughout. I'm still not sure how I feel about Lady Chatterley - some of the prose is beautiful but Lawrence's constant moral/philosophical interjections are tedious in their misogyny. As someone who has something of a mental block when it comes to pre-1950s literature I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible all of these were and am glad that I had this incentive to read some modern classics!


  1. A nice way to organize your list. I just recently read Rebecca and loved it. A Handful of Dust is high up on my TBR so sad to hear that it may not be an enjoyable read.

    1. Thank you! You definitely should read 'A Handful of Dust'! It's not that it isn't enjoyable, it is - it's humour is very dry and the satire extremely sharp - all I meant was that it's not a book that will restore your faith in humanity or make you feel warm and fuzzy inside!

  2. oh, I've been meeting to read a Margaret Atwood novel for ages! everyone says lovely things about her.