I’ve been an English major for about three years now and, to put it bluntly, I’m beginning to grow tired of reading. After taking at least three literature classes each semester, it gets frustrating when books are assigned and expected to be completely finished within two classes. Last semester I had to read at least two books a week. That’s really not humanly possible for the average college student, no matter what you say. But, aside from complaining, I’ve read some incredibly life-changing books that remind me of why I love English so much.
So, I’ve attempted to create a top four list of the best assigned books I’ve read so far at SUNY New Paltz.
All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Class: American Literature I, General Honors I
Professor: Harry Stoneback
Although the book jacket may tell you this story is about Willie Stark, Warren’s representation of New Orlean’s governor Huey “Kingfish” Long, “ATKM” is really about Jack Burden, the novel’s narrator. Through the rise and fall of Stark, we learn about Burden’s past and his three stages: Brass-bound idealism/solipsism, The Great Twitch/determinism and the Spider Web. I can’t really explain these in less than 200 words, but I overheard people talking about the spider web concept, where I then chimed into their conversation – which is exactly what the web applies. This probably makes no sense, so you should just read the book. It’s a good 700 pages, but it is one of the best books I have ever read. Hands down.
The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Class: American Renaissance
Professor: Andrew Higgins
I read this book in high school and absolutely hated it. Yet after studying many Hawthorne short stories in this class and really appreciating his style of writing and absolute brilliance when it comes to the craft of stories, reading this novel wasn’t as much of a pain the second time around. Since I knew the story, I could instead focus on the aesthetic value of the piece, and wow, is this book amazingly well put together. And there’s so much sexual imagery that I would never have cared to catch during my first reading. He uses the word “ejaculation” in a non-sexual way! Although I still think that a good 30 pages or so can be removed, I am deeply surprised at how much I truly enjoyed this book. If you get a chance, try it again.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Class: General Honors II
Professor: Donna Baumler
When I was about 10 or so, I watched the film version of this book with my brother. I loved it, but it scared me. But in this class specifically, which featured books like Hubert Selby Jr.’s “Requiem for a Dream,” I was ready to face my fear and find out what the hell scared me in the first place. What did I really figure out? This book is an absolute masterpiece. Once you get used to the dialect and writing style, the horrifying story unfolds into the realities of a violent youth culture under a totalitarian society. I went in and out of having sympathy for the main character Alex, and by the end I basically just felt awful. Watching the movie doesn’t do the book justice, as it never does, especially because the endings are different.
Class: Analysis & Interpretation of Literature
Professor: Jackie George
Ah. I had always wanted to read this book when I was younger but never did for some reason. When it was finally assigned and I was forced to read it, I couldn’t wait. First thing I was shocked about was that Frankenstein is not Frankenstein! Well, I thought what was Frankenstein is actually just called “the creature” and Victor Frankenstein is the creator. Crazy. This book is eerie, taking the reader on a surprisingly sad journey. I never thought I’d sympathize with a monster as much as I did in this book. After reading, I went home and watched Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein,” which was just perfect – almost in the same category as “Spaceballs.”