Oberlin Blogs

What I Read This Semester 2.0

December 23, 2021

Meredith Warden ’23

With the end of the semester approaching, I thought it would be fun to write another edition of ‘what I read this semester.’ As a junior in college, my level of reading each week has gone up a lot since I wrote the last ‘what I read this semester’ post at the end of my first semester in college. Honestly, such a high amount of reading is quite stressful, and it took a long time for me to learn strategies to handle large pages of reading each week. While people use all sorts of methods to get through readings, what works best for me is reading a set amount of pages each day. I’ve also gotten better at reminding myself that sometimes skimming a reading and noting down the main points is a better use of my time, and preserver of my mental well-being, than thoroughly doing all my readings. 

Hopefully, this list will give you a sense of the many different types of reading a History major at Oberlin College does in the course of a semester. While the volume of reading is high, I genuinely enjoyed reading these books and learned a lot from each of them. Here are just a few books I read this semester: 

The Cheese and the Worms, Carlo Ginzburg

I read this book in HIST 299: Introduction to Historical Methods. A required class for the History major, HIST 299 is all about considering how historians write about history and history as an academic discipline. The Cheese and the Worms is an example of microhistory, a genre in history that focuses on one historical individual and uses their story to explore the larger historical environment in which they lived. In this case, Ginzburg tells the story of Menocchio, a sixteenth-century miller in Italy who had a very unique idea of God and religion (to say the least). This book was super fascinating to read and discuss in class—even though, in my opinion, Ginzburg’s main argument is slightly unclear, it’s still amazing that he was able to reconstruct so much of Menocchio’s life through historical sources like Inquisition records.  

Paradise Lost, John Milton

An epic poem reimagining the Fall of Adam and Eve, this book was honestly difficult to read but still very interesting. I read this book for a Religion class about the History of Sin, where we talk a lot about how different authors have conceived of ideas related to sin within Christianity. While it took a while for me to really get into this book, I thought Milton’s portrayal of Satan as a character was really interesting—he almost humanizes Satan in a way that makes you want to empathize with him. The book itself is just beautifully written, so I also enjoyed reading it for that reason as well. 

Brownstone Brooklyn, Suleiman Osman

I read this book for an upper-level History seminar class about Urban History, where we look at how historians have written about urban history. We read this book as an example of how historians have written about the origins of gentrification and the various communities and factors surrounding this process. This book definitely made me reevaluate the assumptions I had about gentrification based on what I know about this process in cities today, which in my mind is the marker of a good book: it challenges you to rethink how you look at some aspect of the world. We also had a journalist visit our class (via zoom) to talk about gentrification today and in relation to this book, which was super cool! 

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

I also read this book for my HIST 299 class. Although this is quite a well-known book, this was my first time reading it—and I really enjoyed it! This book focuses on the character of Okonkwo, an Igbo ("Ibo" in the book) man in what is now Nigeria, as his life unravels and the British begin to colonize the area. I really enjoyed the structure of this book and the ways Achebe foreshadows and slowly builds up tension throughout his prose and the narrative thread. Reading it reminded me just how much I miss reading literature and not just academic texts all the time (which probably means I should take another English class)!

Domesticating History, Patricia West

Another book I read for my HIST 299 class—although this book is for my final research proposal rather than for the actual class. This proposal is not the research paper itself—it’s just an outline of what research you would do, what historical sources you would use, and what previous historians have written about your topic. As many students in HIST 299 do, I plan to use this final proposal to apply to the History Honors Program. This book is just one of the many books I read in the process of doing research to make sure my proposal is compelling and viable. If you’re interested in museums and how they developed over time, this book gives a fascinating overview of the political movements behind house museums in the U.S.!

The World According to Garp, John Irving

Somewhat sadly, this is the only book I had time to read for fun over the semester—but what a great book! John Irving is a great writer and this book is often really funny and poignant at the same time—and, surprisingly, it still more-or-less holds up for being published in 1978. The plot is slightly difficult to explain, especially without giving too much away, so I’ll just say this: as the title suggests, the book focuses on the life of a man named Garp, who is born to a feminist writer and grows up to become a writer himself. I loved this book so much that I bought another Irving book (The Cider House Rules).


As you can see, this list is history-heavy (which makes sense because I’m a History major!), but there’s also a wider range of books as well, all of which I learned something from and enjoyed reading. While, of course, depending on your major and interests, you could read wildly different books than what I’ve included here, I still hope this list is interesting and gives you a snapshot into what one Oberlin student reads over the course of a semester!

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