In college, one of the best ways to impress a professor is to incorporate something you already learned into his or her class. This shows that you have the ability to use outside resources and connect the professor’s lectures to the real world. Most schools require their students to take freshman English courses, maybe history or some other social science as a general education requirement. It is in these type of classes that the opportunity to impress comes about, and if that seems unimportant, remember that professors are more likely to write a recommendation (a good one) for students they remember, and having interesting comments, in class and in essays, make you stand out from the group giving you the extra push that makes a B+ an A— its all about standing out in a large group.
So how can you do this? Although it sounds contrite, to impress you need to know more, and to know more, you need to read. Read everything. Books, newspapers, comic books, magazines – every type of discourse has something important to say. But as far as classes go, here is what I would consider the top 10 books to have read in order to blow your professor away and get a head start in class.
1. The Odyssey and/or The Iliad-Homer:
Many of you have already read at least one of these epic poems, but I suggest you read or at least skim both. As one of my English teachers said in high school, every book in the world will have an element from either these famous Greek epics or the Bible. One way or another, they will follow you into any English/Literature class you could ever take.
2. Hamlet- Shakespeare:
Though this is technically a play, the themes from Hamlet and other famous Shakespeare plays are timeless . I chose Hamlet because it is probably the most well-known, but if insanity is not something you would want to read about try Macbeth for a little magic, Romeo and Juliet for tragic love, or A Midsummer’s Night Dream for comedy. It’s important to understand why Shakespeare is still studied and appreciate the literary advances he created.
3. Three Lives- Gertrude Stein:
If you are not into literature it is doubtful that you have ever heard of Gertrude Stein, but it is possible that you have heard of at least Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Picasso and/or other famous modern writers and painters. But it was Ms. Stein who started the modern revolution, and she began it with this novel. It is incredibly difficult to get through and I suggest buying a guide to fully comprehend what it is she created in this book. (She influenced novels such as The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury, and The Sun also Rises if you are interested.)
4. Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen:
Always a common part of the cannon, Pride and Prejudice is a book that far surpasses a simple love story. The novel represents a period of time making Austen an example for women writers of the future.
5. On the Road- Jack Kerouac:
Similar to the others, On the Road is a novel that created a new type of writing, a new type of reading. Written in a personal style, the novel is an example of the counter-culture from the 1950’s. Based on autobiographical accounts of Kerouac and his friends traveling across America, the novel is considered a defining book of the postwar Beat Generation.
6. Brave New World- Aldous Huxley:
Written about a potential future society, this novel is a critique on modernism and the embodiment of ideals in futurism. The book is a little out there, but is a fast and interesting read. Referencing multiple different disciplines and authors, Brave New World is referenced itself in hundreds of different discourses because of its unique approach and design.
7. The Stranger- Albert Camus:
As an example of existentialism, once again this book is a pioneer of a new style of writing and philosophy. A short novel, Camus challenges a reader to become unfeeling, and passive against the usual exploration of human emotion.
8. A Russian Novel:
Being one of the largest and once super powered nations, the Russians wrote many novels that exemplify revolution, poverty and societal change. This golden age of Russian literature began with Alexander Pushkin and involved two of the greatest authors of all time, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy: War and Peace, Anna Karenina. Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov.
9. A Current American Novel:
It is always important to have some handle on current American literature when entering college. Knowing a few of these will help in interviews, conversing with professors, and simply writing essays. Try to know a few of these authors: Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Cormac McCarthy, Stephan King, and Don Ayn Rand. Books I recommend are Beloved, The Handmaids Tale, Rabbit Angstrom, The Road, The Stand, and The Fountainhead.
10. Cultural Study:
Cultural Studies majors are becoming more and more popular at Universities across the country and therefore it is important to have a grounding is post-colonialism/cultural literature. Post-colonialism represents the immigration of many countries to the U.S. and describes the feelings of alienation, of cultural assimilation and the American dream. Or one can look into cultural literature based on anywhere in the U.S or world. For examples of post-colonialism and cultural studies: Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.