Oberlin Blogs

Every Book I Read in College

May 19, 2020

This past weekend, I turned in my last final (ever!!!), had my last few meetings with students in the class I’m a Course Writing Associate for, and attended—online of course—the Athletics Department awards ceremony known as the Obies. All of this means that I am officially done with college and I have been trying to use this week before graduation to reflect on the past four years.

There is no way I can express in words the unending gratitude I have for my professors, my Oberlin community, and the college as a whole, but in trying to find some meaningful way to  wrap up my college experience, I decided to compile a list of every book I studied in the past four years. As someone with an English major and minors in two other areas of language (Hispanic Studies and Rhetoric & Composition), it’s safe to say I am a serious literature nerd and looking back at everything I have read has only increased how thankful I am that I got to study literature at Oberlin.

The list I created is imperfectly reconstructed from old syllabi. The classes I read these books in were a mix of English, Rhetoric, Hispanic Studies, Comparative Literature, and History courses. I decided to only include books that I completely or almost completely read for a specific class, which is to say that there are so many amazing poems, films, and sections of other books that I didn’t put on this list. I also decided to leave out the theory that I read, but studying theory was also a hugely influential part of my experience as an English major. So while this is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of everything I studied, looking back at all these books, I am struck by a few things about my time at Oberlin.

I think it’s really cool to see how much the genre of books I read shifted from semester to semester. Depending on the classes I was in, there are some years I read dozens of classic books while other times I took classes much more focused on experimental texts. I’m so grateful that I got to read works from such diverse authors in every sense of the word—background, time period, culture, genre, and purpose for writing. I gained more than I can express by not just reading this range of literature, but by doing so at Oberlin where every class focused on questions of whose voices were represented, what the effect of the text was on the world, and how to reconcile with the complexities and atrocities of the past.

I decided to pick one favorite book from each year, and believe me that was painful, to reflect a little more about my experience studying literature here. 

Freshman Year

In the Palm of Your Hand: A Poet’s Portable Handbook by Steve Kowit

Bright Felon by Kazim Ali

Seneca Review, Fall 2014: We Might As Well Call It the Lyric Essay edited by John D’Agata

The Winged Seed by Li-Young Lee

Vanishing Point by Ander Monson 

On Looking by Lia Purpura

Bending Genre edited by Margot Singer and Nicole Walker

America is in the Heart by Carlos Burlosan

Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

No-No Boy by John Okada

Tripmaster Monkey by Maxine Hong Kingston

Sia(b) by May Lee-Yang

The Walleye Kid by R.A. Shiomi and Sundraya Kase

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies is one of my favorite collections of short stories. I read it in Professor Harrod Suarez’s class, Asian American Literature, which was the first English class I took at Oberlin. I loved the way the course was designed, because we spent the first part of the semester reading canonical works before moving into more experimental pieces later in the semester. We read Interpreter of Maladies in the middle of the semester, kind of as a transition between these two styles of writing, and I remember being struck by Lahiri’s ability to capture so many people’s lives beautifully in such short stories. I also wrote my first English essay of college about this collection, so it holds sentimental value to me.

 

Sophomore Year

Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

The Hungry Woman by Cherríe Moraga

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Othello by Willliam Shakespeare

The Sun, The Idea, and the Story without Words by Frans Masereel

The Scientific Revolution by Steven Shapin

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

The Major Works by John Donne

The Major Works by Francis Bacon

Paper Bodies by Margaret Cavendish

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors by Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams

My sophomore year, I declared my English major and started taking more English classes. I took Literature and the Scientific Revolution with my advisor, Professor Wendy Hyman, second semester. Coming from a background of preferring modern literature, I was at first skeptical about everything we read, but ended up having my mind blown in some way by every single book. We covered such an interesting mix of texts while also studying various visual pieces and objects. I ended up learning so much not just about the pieces themselves, but about how literature functions and is important in the world, making this class my favorite in all my time at Oberlin. We ended the semester reading Frankenstein, which I had never read before that point but which is now one of my favorite books. Studying it within the context of the Scientific Revolution gave me so much perspective I otherwise would not have had, and the essay I wrote comparing Frankenstein and the sketches of the anatomist Andreas Vesallius is one of my favorite assignments I wrote in college.

 

Junior Year

Othello by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare 

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

Pericles by William Shakespeare

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

S/Z by Roland Barthes

Sula by Toni Morrison

Love in A Fallen City by Eileen Chang, translated by Karen Kingsbury

The Pillow Book by Meredith McKinney

Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig, translated by Thomas Colchie

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The Portable Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau, edited by Carl Bode

Emerson’s Prose and Poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Joel Porte and Saundra Morris

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Estrella Distante por Roberto Bolaño

Operación Masacre por Rodolfo Walsh

Insensatez por Horacio Castellanos Moya

La Hora de la Estrella por Clarice Lispector

Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia por Rigoberta Menchú y Elizabeth Burges

I studied abroad in Chile first semester my junior year, so all of these books are from Winter Term, during which I participated in the Shakespeare in Italy trip, and second semester. At the time, I wondered why I was so busy and now looking back I realize it was because I spent so much of the semester reading! I have to say I think this was my ultimate literature semester at Oberlin, because I read so many books and plays that I absolutely loved and the classes I was in were so distinct from each other—I took Transcendentalism and Nature, Introduction to Comparative Literature, Political Exclusion and Violence in Latin America, and was a Course Writing Associate in Shakespeare and the Limits of Genre. Picking a favorite book from this semester is so hard, but I think I have to choose Insensatez because it was the first difficult novel I read in Spanish, which was really exciting. I loved the class I read the book in, Political Exclusion and Violence in Latin America, because we used literature as a lens to understand how various artists made sense of dictatorships and other injustices in Latin America, which was fascinating.

 

Senior Year

The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts

The Secret History; Or, the Horrors of St. Domingo by Leonora Sansay

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Ormond; Or the Secret Witness by Charles Brockden Brown

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Standing on Common Ground by Geraldo Cadava

Suspect Freedoms by Nancy Mirabal

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Fitzgerald 

The Confessions by Augustine, translated by Pine-Coffin 

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney 

The Lais of Marie de France translated by Burgess & Busby

Tristan and Isolde by Gottfried von Strassburg, translated by Hatto

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, translated by Mandelbaum 

La Comedia Nueva por Fernández de Moratín

San Manuel Bueno por Miguel de Unamuno

Yerma por Federico Garcia Lorca

quiem por un campesino español por Ramón J. Sender

El Sur por Adelaida García Morales

My senior year stands out to me because as I moved into working on my Honors thesis, I got to choose some of my own texts that I read for the project. I think my favorite book I read this year was In Cold Blood, because it became the basis for much of my thesis, which I wrote about the ethics of the podcast Serial. This has also been an interesting year because while I did not personally love many of the books I read for the classes I took, I actually think I learned more from them because of that. I spent the year trying to fill in gaps in my knowledge by taking Gothic America, Medieval European Literature, and Survey of Spanish Literature and, as a result, I feel like I am coming away from Oberlin with familiarity in a wide historical and cultural range of literature. 

If my four years studying English, Hispanic Studies, and Rhetoric have taught me anything, it’s that Oberlin is a powerhouse of professors who have incredibly interesting insight to share about literature of every kind. I know I will take the knowledge I have gained from all of these books, as well as the questions they have taught me to ask about the world, with me far into the future. 

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Responses to this Entry

Wishing you all the best for your future Sarah. Love reading your blogs x

Posted by: Jacqui Draper on May 26, 2020 4:27 AM

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