This week’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesday is Back To School. School in the UK means something rather different than the American experience where school also denotes ‘university’ so I’m taking advantage of this liberal interpretation.
This is the season when thousands of young people in the UK get ready for their first experience of university life. It won’t take long for them to discover that academic expectations at university are a whole lot higher than in school – the biggest shock of all is the volume of reading they’ll be expected to do if they plan to follow a literature degree programme. Fortunately some universities provide helpful guides on how to use the summer to prepare for the first year of the course with a reading list and especially what they expect their new students to have already read by the time they begin the course.
A lot of these reading lists are available on line and I imagine will a) be completely ignored by most students until the last moment in the excitement of knowing you got a place and organising all those music festival hangouts or holidays or b) will strike such fear into the heart of the new recruit when confronted with that they’ll instantly air brush if from their memory. Pity the student going to Kings College Cambridge, who gets told to read among other things: The Canterbury Tales, Metamorphoses, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid plus as many Shakespeare plays as possible and all the sonnets. (this is an abbreviated list by the way). Balliol in Oxford has 21 texts on its list – plus at least as many again that are ‘recommended’ but not required.
Sheffield University’s recommendations seem a little more manageable. Instead of a prescribed list their students are given a set of categories and advised them to read at least one text from each. So how would I do if I were heading off to Sheffield this autumn? i’e given myself one point for each that I’ve achieved.
- Read the following set texts for Autumn term : The Moonstone, By Wilkie Collins, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. I was tempted to give myself half a point for me having read The Moonstone (many times over) but it was a stretch so nil points unfortunately.
- Read a classical epic in translation e.g. Homer, The Odyssey. Null points here
- Read a work of classical mythology e.g. Ovid, Metamorphoses Can I get any points for reading bits of Homer? No? Oh that’s mean….
- Read a work of classical tragedy e.g. Sophocles, Oedipus Rex. Phew, I get a point having read two plays by Eurpides; Medea and Electra (links are to my reviews).
- Read one or more books from the King James Bible e.g. The Book of Genesis, or Song of Solomon. Thanks to the forced attendance at Sunday School when I was a child I can scrape one point for having read Genesis.
- Read an Anglo-Saxon poem in translation e.g. Beowulf . Yikes, that would be a challenge. So null points here for me again
- Read a medieval romance (if necessary, in translation) e.g. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight A total blank here.
- Read (and/or see) a Shakespeare play not covered at your school or college Easy peasy… lots of options here for me from Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Anthony and Cleopatra to Hamlet, Macbeth and Measure for Measure. Still a lot of the plays I’ve yet to read or see but some of them don’t get staged that often.
- Read a novel in the European tradition (if necessary, in translation) e.g. François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel; Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote Another point here, Though I haven’t read any of the listed works I’ve read a few Zola novels and Old Goriot by Balzac in recent years, plus, going further back a lot more of the classics like Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal, L’Etranger by Camus; and (from my dalliance with existentialism when I was 16) Jean Paul Sartre.
- Read a major work from each of the following centuries: I’m awarding myself four points here!
- 17th century: For example: Paradise Lost by John Milton or Pseudodoxia Epidemica by Thomas Browne. One point to me as a reward for all those hours pouring over Paradise Lost in my little bedroom at University. We did book 9 for A level and I found it stunning. Some of the other sections – I can’t remember which book it is now but it’s the one that features Satan’s fall from grace – are equally brilliant. But there is an awful lot of so-so stuff in between.
- 18th century: For example: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding; A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne; A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. One point again since I read Tom Jones though it was many years ago now.
- 19th century: For example: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Oh this is so simple – Jane Eyre tick, plus many of the other Victorian greats like Eliot and Gaskell. Melville I have no interest in reading.
- 20th century: for example: Ulysses by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett. Another point here for having read Waiting for Godot and seen two stage versions (one featuring my husband as Estragon)
So my total out of a possible 12 is 8. Fairly respectable but it’s evident that I have large gaps in some of the oldest of genres. I think I’m going to have to live with that – as I said in a recent post, about some of those ‘great classics’ that are lingering on my bookshelves because they are just not my cup of tea. So how would you fare if you were heading off to college this autumn? Feeling smug cos you’ve read all the list or in a panic because you’ve barely scrapped the surface??