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Books that English Majors Read

RWC tutor Hannah Grace Leece gives insight into some of the best books she's read as an English literature major.

As an English literature major, it would be a severe understatement to say we read a lot. On average, a good portion of us write at least one essay per month as students, and I’ve been in classes that have required reading 6+ books per class a semester. While I can’t say I’ve enjoyed all of them, there have been a select few that I’ve enjoyed. So, if you’re looking for an intellectually stimulating experience, here are some of the best books I’ve ever read as an English major. Happy reading!

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover:

Course: Critical Reading & Writing

This has been my most-read book for college – I’ve read it about 3 or 4 times now, and each time I reread it, I learn something new. It tells the story of Tara Westover and her upbringing in a Mormon survivalist family in rural Idaho. It follows her childhood to becoming “educated” at Brigham Young University, eventually bringing her to earn a Ph.D. This memoir taught me so much about my life and personality and Tara’s unique story about education in a very abnormal setting; I cannot recommend it enough.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Course: Multi-Ethnic Literature & Writing

This short, letter-format book is a social commentary about the prevalence of racism in American society today by Ta-Nehisi Coates, addressed to his son Samori Maceo-Paul Coates. It comments on the impacts of police brutality and the victims of racism, as well as a shift in cultural attitudes towards Black people for a more equitable society that is protective, not harmful, of Black bodies. If you want a book that will draw attention to racist practices and will make you question your own prejudices, this book is definitely for you.

Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams:

Course: Multi-Ethnic Literature & Writing

*Content Warning: sexual content, violence

Another book that comments on the impacts of racism in American society but in a different time period, Dessa Rose is known as a neo-slave narrative – that is, a narrative about someone who used to be enslaved but became free. Sherley Anne Williams (who happens to also be a Fresno State alumni), in this novel, combines two historical narratives to create something entirely new. Dessa, a pregnant slave, was sentenced to death after participating in an unsuccessful slave uprising. However, the slave owners decide to wait for her execution until after her child was born with the means of enslaving the child. Around the same time in history, a North Carolina woman was rumored to give sanctuary to runaway slaves. Williams combines these two historical events to create a fictional story in which Dessa escapes and goes to that plantation with a few other runaway slaves.

The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare:

Course: Shakespeare

*Content Warning: implied suicide, murder

No English major completes their degree without reading at least one classic Shakespeare! Out of all the Shakespeare I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a bit), Macbeth is definitely one of my favorites. It follows the tragic fate of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, when he aspires to take the crown and kill everyone who gets in his way – not realizing along the way that his ambition will be his ultimate downfall. Double double, toil and trouble…

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