Assigned Reading I Actually Loved (and Some I Didn’t)

Bookstr’s Camilia shares five required readings she loved, and three she didn’t.

Book Culture

As someone with the word “Literature” as part of their major, I have taken my fair share of Literature classes and therefore have read many books in my last three years of college (forty-six, to be exact, in Literature classes and otherwise). Some I have enjoyed more than others, and a lot of it had to do with my professors and how they taught these books. But sometimes not even a great professor can make a book that you are being forced into reading enjoyable. Because yes, being required to read something can take all the fun away from it. But without further ado, here are five of the books I’ve read for class that I loved, and three that I didn’t.

Those I loved

Luisa in Realityland by claribel alegria 

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This book is probably the one I have liked the most out of my entire college career, and it is in a format that I wouldn’t usually reach for. This book tells the story of Luisa, a young girl growing up in El Salvador during the 1930s, which were some very tumultuous times for the country’s history. But instead of having a regular linear prose, the story is told through a series of vignette-like stories and poems. It has some elements of magical realism and is used to relate a very crude story of war through the eyes of a child. It is also a very short and relatively easy-to-understand read (which made the presentation I had to make on it so much easier).

Quotes that I think of constantly:

“Take a good look at me. After age 40 a person doesn’t change a whole lot. If some day you think you recognize me, just come up and say, ‘I’m Luisa,’ and I’ll open my heart to you.”

“I’ll never really understand her. Despite her love of adventure, her wildness, her Utopian streak and the happiness bubbling up inside her, it is sadness that always leaves its mark on her face.”

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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I’ve actually never read Jane Eyre (I know, I’m sorry to all of the classics fans out there), but knew the general plot of it—all of that with the “mad” woman in the attic. So when I saw that this book was the backstory to the very mysterious Bertha Mason I was more than intrigued. Turns out I absolutely loved this book for more than one reason. Not only does it give an actual life to Bertha, called Antoinette in this book, beyond the “madness” and racist characterization she had in Jane Eyre, but it was beautifully written, and explored a lot of very interesting and important themes such as colonization and racism in the Caribbean.

Quotes that I think of constantly:

“‘I am not used to happiness,’ she said. ‘It makes me afraid.’”

“You can pretend for a long time, but one day it all falls away and you are alone. We are alone in the most beautiful place in the world…”

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

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This book tells the story of Tambu, a Zimbabwean girl in pursuit of her education while facing the challenges of her economic status and her gender. This book does an incredible job of explaining how colonialism and women’s rights intersect and how women’s oppression and racism are a result of colonialism. Nervous Condition also explores some complexities of mental health, it has some amazing family dynamics, and a lot of female characters with distinct personalities. If you’ve been looking to get into books by African authors I would definitely recommend that you check this one out.

Quotes that I think of constantly:

“And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you, my child, is to learn to carry your burdens with strength.”

“It’s bad enough . . . when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That’s the end, really, that’s the end.”

The Iliad by Homer

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You know those Greek mythology kids? Well, I am one of them, and The Iliad only cemented my love for it. A lot of people prefer The Odyssey to The Iliad because of the action, but there is something special about The Iliad that I love. The depictions of war are very interesting because instead of just romanticizing it shows you the terrible side of it, of course, it shows how there are the heroes who get and are trying to get glory through war, but it also shows how it destroys lives. The characters are compelling, and the story of the Trojan War is simply amazing.

Quotes that I think of constantly:

“…There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible—magic to make the sanest man go mad.”

“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire 

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I have never been the biggest poetry fan, in part because I don’t really understand it a lot of the time. But even I was compelled by Baudelaire in this collection. Learning the backstory—how it was surrounded by controversy and that court banned six of the poems because they were “an insult to public decency”—made it even better. I still can’t say with confidence that I understand everything that Baudelaire was trying to say, but I can say that the writing is beautiful.

A poem that I’m not sure I fully understood:

Muse of my heart, you who love palaces,
When January frees his north winds, will you have,
During the black ennui of snowy evenings,
An ember to warm your two feet blue with cold?

Will you bring the warmth back to your mottled shoulders,
With the nocturnal beams that pass through the shutters?
Knowing that your purse is as dry as your palate,
Will you harvest the gold of the blue, vaulted sky?

To earn your daily bread you are obliged
To swing the censer like an altar boy,
And to sing Te Deums in which you don’t believe,

Or, hungry mountebank, to put up for sale your charm,
Your laughter wet with tears which people do not see,
To make the vulgar herd shake with laughter.

Why was i forced to read this?

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett 

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Perhaps the proof that some plays are meant to be watched, not read. I could barely make it through this very short play because it was just so boring. Watching clips from one of the adaptations was actually entertaining, but reading it was just not it. The jokes didn’t land, the physical aspects of the comedy were kind of lost, and it all made the ending feel very underwhelming. There were some philosophical moments of it that were good, but I would one thousand times rather watch the play than ever reading it again.

Robinson Crusoé by daniel dafoe

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Logically, I understand why this is required reading, spiritually, WHY IS THIS REQUIRED READING? It’s boring, outdated, and terribly racist. I guess there is some sense of adventure in it and I understand that people like to see a man survive against all odds and conquer his surroundings, but there are other stories like that that I would rather read.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink 

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Arguably not the worst book I’ve ever read, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. I understand what the author was trying to do with this story, but that didn’t stop me (and my entire class) from being really uncomfortable. The whole pedophilia theme, and the “kinda bad but not bad Nazis” thing just made for a very tense class discussion that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Better post-war stories to read.

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