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Hi everyone – I’m back!!! I took a hiatus for the past few months as things got pretty intense while I was finishing my English Literature degree. I’ve now submitted my last assignments and I’m really looking forward to getting back into book blogging, and catching up on all of your lovely posts!
For the first post of my return, I wanted to share the 10 most important things I learned from studying literature:
1) The definition of ‘literature’ is broader than most people think.
When people think of what counts as ‘English literature’, Shakespeare or Dickens tend to pop into their heads first. But these hierarchies can marginalise a lot of important voices and conversations, so I believe anything can be read and studied as literature! True crime? That counts. Graphic novels? Definitely. Spoken word poetry? Yep, that counts too!
2) I actually like poetry sometimes!
I went into my degree determined to make all necessary efforts to avoid anything written in verse. But then in my first semester I found myself absolutely hooked on Paradise Lost by John Milton, which is an epic poem so long it’s split into different ‘books’.
I realised that the reason I disliked poetry before was that I was looking for a story, which the random scatterings of poems in our GCSE anthology never provided. But Paradise Lost, The Iliad, or The Faerie Queen, with their epic proportions and battles between supernatural beings, all have the trappings of a pretty amazing story. So it turns out that, weirdly, I do like poems – but only if they’re really, really long!
3) Censorship is dangerous.
Looking at the reasons books have been censored – for having openly gay characters, showing contraceptive methods, or giving women a sexual drive – is like walking into a strange, prudish, bigoted alternative universe.
Unfortunately, censorship is still an issue today. For example, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan is one of the top 10 most challenged books in American libraries. We need to push back and demand creative freedom, so that future generations will celebrate our literature rather than rolling their eyes and wondering why we were so darn repressed.
4) Reading is best when it’s not solitary.
I’m probably preaching to the choir given that book bloggers know better than most how wonderful it is to share your love of reading! Some of the highlights of my degree were the conversations I had with other students about our favourite books.
There’s nothing better than mutually gushing over Margaret Atwood’s audacity or the near-physical power of Toni Morrison’s writing style. A nice healthy rant about one of the less popular set texts didn’t hurt once in a while either!
5) Literature is useful!
Reading is never ‘just’ reading. You’re developing empathy, forming critical opinions, and – if you write reviews or essays – learning to articulate yourself. Throughout my course I’ve looked at how literature can act as a framework to address a multitude of social problems, from racism to the environmental crisis.
6) You can get a job, I promise.
See the above point! People often worry that there’s no clear-cut career path after studying English, but that just means there are lots of options. I’m going on to take a Masters degree and qualify as a librarian. Friends of mine are doing teaching conversion courses, getting jobs in digital marketing, or looking into PhDs. So please reassure your parents!
7) Books are objects, as well as words.
One of my favourite modules studied books as objects – we looked at everything from the title pages of 16th century plays to the difference between physical books and ebooks.
I loved looking at what people hundreds of years ago wrote in their books, and the idea that my little scribbled annotations might be analysed by a scholar in a couple of centuries’ time always made me smile!
8) Pay attention to who is writing the reviews, not just the books.
Diversity in publishing is a real hot topic at the moment, but how about diversity in literary criticism? One tutor told me it wasn’t enough to read diverse books, but that I should seek out diverse reviews and criticism about those books. It really stuck with me as it’s something I’d never thought about before.
That’s why our #OwnVoices bloggers deserve so much appreciation!
9) Reading is always political.
All of the theories that go alongside studying literature, from feminism to post-colonialism, have shown me that it’s impossible to read without political implications. Even choosing not to consider the political implications of what we read is still a political decision!
For those of us who seek to read inclusively, it can be overwhelming to realise that choosing to read a book always means choosing NOT to read many others. Reading inclusively is an individual, varied undertaking that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach but it’s important that we stay mindful of whose voices are coming under our radar and whose are being missed.
10) Studying books full-time will not put you off reading forever!
This was what worried me the most – would analysing books for three years make me jaded and take the joy out of reading? Thankfully, the answer is no! I’ve still been excited and gripped by the books I’ve studied, although I’m now looking forward to a long summer with no set reading, zero pressure and the freedom to pick up any book I choose!
Now that I’ve stepped back from the stress of deadlines a little bit, I can realise how much I’ve enjoyed studying literature, and appreciate everything I’ve taken from three years of intense reading. It’s definitely something I would encourage anyone to do, whether it’s an informal discussion group, an evening class or a full-blown PhD!
Have you studied literature in any form, and if so what was your favourite thing about it? Are you thinking about studying literature in future? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you!