In Focus: books that prepared me for degree study
English Literature is a subject I have studied throughout my entire school life, right through to leaving secondary education. I study English at University College London, where the course offers variety, depth and range. However, moving from A-Level to Degree study can be pretty daunting. Not only do the reading lists become longer and scarier, the texts you are required to read take on a new appearance; often monumental works of literature that demand more attention, focus and thought. I'm also a fairly slow reader when it comes to reading course texts, so I like to give myself plenty of time.
Whilst all university lists will be unique, there are a few timeless texts that I recommend reading if you are looking to bridge the gap between school and university. Read on to hear my recommendations...
Paradise Lost, John Milton
This was probably the scariest book on my first year reading list. I had heard of Milton and his masterpiece, but I never had the need to read it pre-university. When I reached the end, I felt a huge sense of pride, as I had never really immersed myself in such dense, 17th Century material before. Paradise Lost, whilst also being an unusually entertaining read, will bring your mind out of the post-A-level slump and prepare you for what is to come. If this is on your reading list, I would definitely recommend reading it before you start studying, as not only is it rather long, it is so rich that it took me a little longer to get my head around than the other texts. And if it isn't on your reading list, I would still recommend it as a work every Literature student should read and think about.
The Riverside Chaucer, Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer's work was incredibly daunting to me, to say the least. Some of my peers had already studied some of his work at A-Level, and so were used to the Middle English dialect and writing. Unfortunately, I was not as lucky, so I was keen to read the set Chaucer text (The Miller's Tale in my case) in order to prepare myself for the Medieval Literature Module. The Miller's Tale was actually really enjoyable - once you get used to the Middle English (which is surprisingly similar to Modern English when read aloud), you will start to find that it is really just a simple, satirical story. I recommend using the Spark Notes translation to aid your reading of it (although don't rely on this - use with caution!). If you can get through any of Chaucer's works, you're well on your way to nailing first year English study!
The Odyssey, Homer
If you haven't read any Greek epics before (which was the case for me), I would definitely read a bit of Homer. The likes of Homer, Virgil and Ovid will likely appear on any first year English reading list, so it's probably worth your time getting stuck into the world of the Greek myth. Despite being interested in Greek mythology, I found The Odyssey surprisingly difficult to get into, and looking back I'm really happy I started it before leaving for university. It has really interesting themes and is great for deep exploration, so giving yourself more time will be of immense benefit. This novel is also seen as a grounding text for most other works of literature, so reading and understanding it is totally worth it for later in your university journey. Homer's background is also very interesting.
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
This is a stunning novel in my opinion, and really captures the Victorian style and literary themes. As this was towards the bottom of my reading list, I didn't read it pre-uni. I loved loved LOVED this novel when I read it, and it has since become one of my faves, but I would have liked to have more time to really mull over the writing rather than rushing through it before term began. It's rather long, but worth every second, and will really open the doors for deep analysis. It's also great for sparking interest in other texts, such as Darwin's On the Origin of Species (another text on my list).
The Prelude, William Wordsworth
Wow - this poem is HUGE! I read this during my reading week (the uni version of half term), and just about finished it before term restarted. If I'd known the length of The Prelude, I would have definitely begun reading it earlier. The writing is beautiful and introduced me to the exquisite nature of the Romantic era. However, it is very very dense and moves between different settings, themes and times swiftly. It is possibly the best text on this list for deep analysis, as every sentence is laden with vivid imagery and techniques, but may require a bit longer than a few days to get through it.
If you haven't read these texts before, don't panic! I had read no Milton, Chaucer, Homer or Eliot before degree, and I have the benefit of hindsight to offer this advice. Of course, this is just my opinion and based on my own personal experience. If you have started university without having read them, this is nothing to worry about either - you may find these texts easy, or you may read faster than myself and not need the time to mull over the texts, and that's fine too! Reading and learning is a very personal journey. If there are texts that scare you on your reading lists, I would say its definitely worth reading them first - eat the frog, as the saying goes!
Finally, remember that the earlier you read the texts, the harder you'll have to concentrate in order to remember the ins and outs of the text for when you come to study it. My advice for this is making detailed summaries, quote banks and compiling your initial thoughts as you read the texts - this way, you have a bit of information waiting for you when you come to study the them. If you would like to hear how I prepare for studying a text or how I structure my reading schedule, leave comment below!
Be sure to like this post if you found it interesting, helpful or thought provoking. Leave a comment with your most daunting reads too - a problem shared is a problem halved!