English Major Musings is an evergreen Paperback Paris column curated by Contributing Writer Alicia LeBoeuf.
As an English major, you are certainly going to have to take some literature courses, even if you are geared more towards creative writing or English education. Personally, taking literature classes was what I was looking forward to the most when I first declared myself as an English major. I was excited at the prospect of getting course credit for reading great books and pondering the various meanings of the pages. While this isn’t an inaccurate assumption, I most definitely had only a vague impression of what my first literature classes were going to be like. One assumes that there will plenty of reading of course, but that’s only skimming the surface of what is really demanded by these classes. In this post, I will delve into detail about what you should really expect from literature classes, as I’ve taken almost two years’ worth of them at this point.
First, I’ll start off with the reading: yes, there’s a lot of it. I have always prided myself on being a relatively fast reader, but when it came to the rather dense books that are typically found on required reading lists, I found my reading pace slowed way down. One realizes really quickly that there is a huge difference between reading for entertainment and reading for comprehension, understanding, and interpretation. When reading a book for class, I am soaking up every word because just ‘skimming’ might mean missing an important detail. I also take notes while I’m reading, because it helps me remember what is going on in the story – and this comes in handy when I’m in a class discussion and need to be reminded of a specific plot point! I would also suggest marking important passages or quotations with post-it notes which will help keep you organized.
You can’t assume that you are going to absolutely love every single book you will have to read for your classes. But I’m here to say that it is completely fine and normal if you don’t like some of the books your professors insist on discussing. This has happened to me more than a few times, and it often made me feel a bit doubtful about my choice to be an English major. However, I soon realized that I am not the only one, and ‘not clicking’ with a certain book is just a part of being an English major. Just because you personally don’t find the book interesting or good doesn’t mean it’s not an important part of the literary canon, so it is still worth your time to read it. If anything, reading a book you don’t love for a class teaches you about persistence.
If you feel a bit discouraged by that, I want to point out that you are probably going to discover some of your favorite books and authors in these literature classes. It’s all because of the English curriculum that I have grown to appreciate the works of Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Sarah Waters. Literature has allowed me to discover great books that I probably never would have stumbled across anyways. This is definitely one of the best things about taking literature classes, in my opinion. I have also been exposed to genres that I didn’t think I was a huge fan of until I had to read it in class, and now I am more open-minded towards reading other genres.
As an English major, you are obviously going to be exposed to many different types of literature. There’s American literature, British literature, African American literature, and many others, depending on how many English classes your particular college is offering. My college also has an entire class dedicated to Shakespeare, as well as classes that focus on women in literature and specific major authors. Not only do these classes offer you the chance to read famous works, but most literature classes offer an in-depth insight into the historical time period these pieces were written in as well. You learn about the social and political climate, which gives you a better understanding of the world as a whole. Taking literature classes allow students to become more connected to other time periods and cultures, while providing the chance to try out different perspectives. Literature classes definitely have many benefits to offer those who are interested in broadening their horizons and challenging their critical thinking skills.
Stay tuned for the next installment of English Major Musings at Paperback Paris!
What did you learn from your literature classes?
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