I find list-making, especially as it applies to reading lists, to be simultaneously soothing and infuriating. I am happy that English departments at places like Oxford University often eschew a list and instead encourage applicants to read widely and much. That advice in hand, it is still true that the dons and tutors expect their incoming English students to have read Jane Ausen, a good amount of Shakespeare, and the Brontes. The canon remains, though it is in need of constant revision and update. I wonder: when my daughter gets ready for college in 11 short years, what will she be required to have read, and what will she have read to make her ready?
I'd like to provide two lists here of a dozen literature books I want her to have read, probably in her last few summers before going off to school. The first will be rather obvious, but it will exclude such items as “Hamlet,” for I would hope that between her excellent school , our private book collection, and parenting, she will have the basics down. “Pride and Predjuice,” Shakespeare, and some Chaucer are givens. Not all works are originally written in English, but most are.
The second list is mostly literature in translation, some of it is well-known, and I believe all of it is criminally under-read by both students and adults.
The obvious list:
- Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
- The Inferno by Dante
- Selected writings of John Ruskin
- Dubliners by James Joyce
- Don Quixote by Cervantes
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas pere
- The Red and the Black by Stendhal
- Candide by Voltaire
- Swann's Way by Proust
- The Bacchai by Euripides
- The Art of Happiness by Epicurus
- On the nature of things by Lucretius
And now the more ecclectic and, in my opinion, interesting list:
- The Maias by Eça de Queirós
- A Heart So White by Javier Marías
- The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
- A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
- A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
- Songbook by Umberto Saba
- Canti by Leopardi
- Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
- Labyrinths by Borges
- Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
- Stories of Anton Checkov
Lists aside, it is a pleasure every day to see her delve into books, to swim in the pages of some great story, or to be able to read aloud to her or to watch as my wife reads to her. Reading can be an act of love, one of the most pure.