As we approach the middle of the fall semester, English majors are starting to realize just how difficult a task it is to read, study, and analyze 20 novels in just three and a half months. While most of the books we read we learn to love through time and dedication, there are others that make us long for the days when the hardest thing we had to do was analyze that Robert Frost poem in The Outsiders.
Below are five novels that should definitely freak you out if you find them on your course syllabus — in which case, Godspeed!
1. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
If you’re reading this “novel” — it’s more like a collection of short stories written in verse — you’re more or less going to hold your professor’s hand throughout the entire semester. Chaucer’s lauded classic holds an enormous cast of characters and chances are, you’ll probably be reading it in Middle English (more reason to cringe!). Grab a Middle English dictionary, buy a copy you won’t mind writing in, and get familiar with the footnotes because you’re going to need all the help you can get.
2. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
This is the perfect example of a novel that everyone says they’ll get around to eventually, but they never do. Well, let’s say your professor has made the ridiculous decision to make you read this 700-page tome in one semester, so now you have no choice. GREAAAAT! Get ready for a mix of brilliant and exciting storytelling with a couple hundred pages of infinitely boring details on the mechanics behind whaling. This paradoxical combination will make you want to time travel to the 19th century and introduce Melville to Microsoft’s “Cut” function. Oh well, at least there’s still the movie with Gregory Peck, right?
3. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
This little 100-page play is short, but it packs a disorienting punch. If you know exactly what’s going on after your first read-through, you’ll graduate with a 4.0 GPA for sure. Your professor will definitely make you read 50 pages of modernist theory on the side, and you’ll leave class with more questions than answers. Beckett might be on an eternal “search for meaning” but so will you, and your essay will be as nonsensical and stream-of-consciousness heavy as the play itself.
Extra points if the theory your professor makes you read is Heidegger. In other words, run for your life.
4. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Another novel, another modernist. Do you like linear novels that have a distinct narrator who tells the story from beginning to end? Yes? Drop the class. This book is famous, or rather, infamous, for its confusing narration (there are four different kinds), and its nonlinear stream-of-consciousness style. If your professor has this on their syllabus, they clearly want you to be mentally exhausted by the first week of the semester.
5. Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce
Could I make this list without including Joyce? He’d probably be offended if I didn’t if he were alive today. If you are reading this book for school, you’re either taking a class on Irish literature/modernism, or you have the world’s worst professor. (Likely both.)
There’s really no plot to Finnegan’s Wake, the language is impossible to understand, and the narration is — you guessed it! — stream-of-consciousness. If you make it to the end of this novel without losing a few hairs, bawling in tears, or going mentally insane, you deserve every academic merit your university offers.
(Tip: Please invest in a step-by-step guidebook. If you don’t, good luck!)