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7 College Literature Books English Majors Should Expect to Read in Class

Are you about to start your degree in English? Be prepared for a lot of reading and writing. If you’re wondering what to expect and are trying to get a head start, keep reading for a guide to college literature books you should expect to read and could start reading now. 

These books can help you in your scholarly career and beyond! 

1) The Scarlet Letter 

Often required for high school readings, this popular book has it all. If you have not read it yet, you should! 

This novel by famed American author Nathaniel Hawthorn is great for writers, as it’s packed with symbolism and allegory. This book is often used in entry-level literature courses because it’s a great way to learn how to pick a text apart for a closer reading. 

Set in Puritan times, the book takes the reader back to early America, following the main character Hester Prynne. If you enjoy a book with a good heroine character, Hester is one of the first and most classic leading female roles.

The book follows Hester as she raises her daughter, Pearl, on her own. Due to her refusal to name the father of her baby, she must wear a bright red “A” on her chest that points out to the entire community that she is adulterous. The book explores themes such as sin, identity, and guilt. 

A classic work of historical fiction that explores Puritan traditions, as well as what it means to be a mother, this book is anything but boring despite how old it is. The book has many film adaptions, and the movie starring Emma Stone, East A (2010) is even loosely based on the story. 

2) Candid 

This French classic by famed philosopher, Voltaire, is a quick read that packs a punch. Known for its satirical nature, this book follows the character Candid, in a somewhat coming of age style. There are undertones of satirically mimicking romances in a more matter of fact illustration of life, growing, learning and aging. 

In this text, Voltaire works to make the reader question systems such as government and religion. Once a banned book due to its ridicule of such authority, the book is now one of the most taught pieces of French Literature.

3) Frankenstein 

This book helped to create the pop-cultural monster, but the text by British author Mary Shelley is really so much more. While many people think the name refers to the monster itself, the story follows Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who attempts to create a man-made human being. The product is terrifying, creating a monster of a being. 

This popular story shows the horrors that men can inflict on themselves when trying to play god. This is a must-read for anyone interested in horror or science fiction, as it truly spawned the horror genre as a whole. 

4) Infinite Jest 

If you’re looking for a more modern read that is still jam-packed with literary devices, this is a great option. Published in 1996 by American writer David Foster Wallace, this book is known for its experimental style. Wallace uses endnotes and an unusual narrative style to display four different interwoven stories.  

The novel works to explore many different difficult topics from addiction, death, and mental illness in a satirical way. The book is often referred to as an encyclopedic novel or a tragicomedy. Noted as a great critique of postmodernism and the entertainment industry, this book is an ambitious and riveting read. 

5) The Things They Carried 

This American book is a collection of stories by author Tim O’Brien. The book is mostly centered on war and the lives of soldiers. While the stories are fictional, they are based on O’Brien’s own experiences in the Vietnam War.

The book was written due to the author’s surprise and disgust at the reactions and vague understandings of the Americans at home. O’Brien wished to make the war more real for readers through this book and to diminish ignorance. Known as a great piece of metafiction, the book blurs the lines between what is true and what is fiction. 

6) The Road 

Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece is a post-apocalyptic novel known for its sparse organization and style. The book follows a father and son as they struggle to survive on their travels south after human extinction. 

The book tells the story of struggle, humanity, mortality, and love. The style of the book mimics its bleak subject matter. This book is sure to captivate you and will also show you a unique plot structure you can’t find anywhere else. 

7) Song of Solomon 

By prized author Toni Morrison, this is one of her best works. It explores issues such as race, gender, and identity. The book follows its central character, Milkman, as he tries to figure out the meaning of his life and his origins.

This coming of age novel follows Milkman all the way from birth to adulthood in a multi-cultural style. A memorable work of African American literature, the book explores black identity. Morrison is a must-read for all English Literature students, with her gorgeous use of the style and plot. 

College Literature Books Every English Major Should Explore 

These college literature books are great for every English Major to have under their belt. With this list, there is truly something for everyone no matter your literary interest. Reading is an essential part of succeeding during your time as an English Major, and these books will teach you essential skills such as experimental writing style, riveting themes, and critical analysis. 

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About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.