As an English major, I’ve read a LOT of books, both for class and for pleasure (what, you think you can be a English major and not like reading?). Now that I have only a handful of classes left for my degree, I have a pretty solid list of books I’ve read because of professors and major-required classes. Some have been awful and unpleasant, some have been diamonds in the rough, but I feel I’ve been lucky in having both great professors and solid text selections for classes. If you’re also an English major here at New Paltz, or just love reading and want to add to your TBR (to-be-read pile/list), then here are some books/plays/short stories to pick up that I have the English department to thank for introducing me:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This is the first classic novel I’ve ever read, and first Victorian(ish) era novel I’ve read. I’ve never seen the film before, and only knew the vague sense of it’s a love story between Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy (thanks to tumblr’s obsession with the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube a few years back). What I didn’t expect was this to be so dramatic and enticing, full of complex characters, sassy female protagonists, and a love story featuring heartwarming character development on both sides. Thomas Festa teaches it in his Intro to Brit Lit class, and he honestly led me to fall in love with British Romantic poetry and Victorian novels–his covering of this novel is the reason I’m currently taking the Victorian Literature class right now! If you love love stories, drama, multiple subplots, and crazy shenanigans that half the time are entirely unnecessary, I highly suggest you pick up Pride and Prejudice
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick
This book is taught by Jed Mayer in the Science Fiction course (taught every three/four semesters), and is a doozy to get through. As someone who loves worldbuilding, it infuriated me to no end that Dick never elaborates on anything in his post-apocalyptic world. However, once I got about halfway through the book (and had Mayer low key spoil the ending of the movie adaptation, Blade Runner, as well as the potential ending of the novel), the pieces started to fit together and I liked it a LOT more. The entire novel is about identity, and what it means when you lose the concept of who you always thought you are. What if you’re an android but always thought you were human? What if you ARE a human but have the tiniest doubt you’re not? How do you keep on living? These questions really become prominent from halfway through the novel until the very end, and really sold me on the story.
If you like character studies and questioning what makes someone human, as well as what identity really is, this is the book for you. The writing is stinted, but if you have the theory I do (which I don’t want to say because of spoilers), then it makes a lot more sense, and explains some of the craziness this novel has to offer.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Have you ever read a murder mystery novel? Oh, you have? But have you ever read one by the queen of mystery? Of course, I’m talking about the one and only Agatha Christie: author of 75 novels, all critically acclaimed and beloved by many. This novel was taught by Daniel Kempton in the Seminar in Critical Theory class (an intro seminar for English field majors), which focused on English theories and mysteries. I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel, though I started And Then There Were None YEARS ago but lost the book. M a slow reader, but flew through the second half of this book in one sitting. The writing style is so simplistic that nothing is very confusing (except maybe when it’s supposed to be, as a murder mystery novel). Unlike Sherlock Holmes stories, Christie gives readers all the facts Poirot, the detective, knows at the time, letting readers have a fighting chance to figure out the crime before Poirot reveals it at the end.
If you like challenges and solving puzzles, and want a quick read that’s a critically-acclaimed classic, go check out Murder on the Orient Express. (But maybe not the movies: the 70s film was required for Kempton, and it’s AWFUL; the modern remake from last year didn’t get the best reviews, either, despite the stellar cast.)
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
This play is told in two parts, Millenium Approaches and Perestroika, and focuses on the lives of gay men in New York City during the heart of the AIDS epidemic. This was covered by Michelle Woods in her 493 Literature and Resistance class, and it was so amazing. All characters were flawed in their own ways, and all were called out for it. Analyses of religion, race, and class were all intertwined in the LGBTQ+ community. Nationally rebound lawyer Roy Cohn makes his appearance as a main character, and his denial of being gay and dying from AIDS–he adds very interesting conflict to other characters, and a discussion of morality while being successful. In class, we would watch clips from the HBO miniseries starring A-listers like Meryl Streep as minor characters Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg, Al Pacino as Cohn, Elizabeth Banks as the Angel and nurse to main character Prior, and James Cromwell as Cohn’s doctor.
If you don’t mind reading screenplays, and want to read a story focused on the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay community (as a whole, and not just specific subsections), this is a wonderful text that I feel everyone will get something out of. And at the length of a standard novel, it’s fairly easy to read on its own and not too bad of a personal read.