By Eva • September 14, 2015
Five words you never want to hear in a comparative lit class?
"Yeah, going off of that..."
Which, when translated to normal human speak, actually means "This in no way relates to the point you just made, but I really love to hear myself talk." Every English major knows the scenario: The class circles up after reading (or not reading) a beautifully crafted piece of literature, and an intellectually-indulged twenty-something decides to hijack the discussion with the deluded idea that they have the book completely figured out. But the thing about great literature is that no one has managed to totally figure it out – that's why it stands apart as a selection of work that we all keep coming back to. Plus nothing kills an engaging class discussion quite like an unchecked know-it-all. Whether you're the type of student who's read the book before it was assigned, or who only highlights quotes they find on sparknotes, these ten works of literature are worth a second (or third) read. And here's a plus; two of them are comic books.
1. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
You'll have a hard time forgetting about this piece of American literature. Dive into an autobiography that is simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring, From learning to read and write by tricking white children into teaching him, to becoming one of the most eloquent men in American history, Douglass's recounting of the pre-Civil War South is a haunting portrayal of the roots of America's racial injustice.
2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart is a novel that attempts to convey the devastation spread across the African continent at the hands of colonialism. At the same time, Achebe examines the complexities of a man and his relationship with fear, as well as his fight to remain himself amongst it.
3. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
The author's 1920's Parisian memoir is a timeless literary classic. Hemingway has a way of writing that is unparalleled in its honest clarity, which, combined with simple imagery, captures Paris in the 20's in a wonderfully poetic way. Plus you get to read Hemingway's account of F. Scott Fitzgerald as an incompetent drunk and horrible road trip companion!
4. Night by Elie Wiesel
A Holocaust survivor, Wiesel gives us a cinematic portrayal of the atrocities he experienced. Night touches upon questions of faith and guilt as Wiesel grapples with his idea of god before, during, and after the tragedy he endured and many others did not. To read the words of someone who speaks on the Holocaust from memory is a harrowing and humbling experience.
5. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
A rose is a rose and Alice B. Toklas is Gertrude Stein in the author's totally fabricated autobiography of her lover. Get to know Stein more than Toklas in this wonderfully ego-centric account of Stein's influence across countless other artists. In the autobiography, Stein presents one of the most compelling constructions of self in American literature.
6. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
If you thought I picked a happy book because this one has the word fun in the title, think again. In this case, fun is short for funeral. Alison Bechdel illustrates her childhood as her father's daughter, her young adult-hood as a queer individual, and her growth into herself by vehicle of her father's premature death. A story of love, understanding (or lack thereof), and self, Fun Home is without a doubt one of the most beautiful novels of the century.
7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A brutal account of childhood and fatherhood, Hosseini's first novel unfolds across many years in Afghanistan. The Kite Runner intertwines its characters in a web of betrayal and redemption, running strings of love and forgiveness through a lifetime of guilt.
8. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Sure you should re-read this classic before picking up its newly released sequel, but To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that keeps its secrets to itself. Give it a closer look and discover references and allusions you probably missed the first time. Harper Lee's decision to tell an incredibly adult story through the eyes of a child, creates a vivid account of ‘coming of age' and discovering the good in people.
9. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi couples a simplistic style of drawing with a dry humor and adult content to portray her experience growing up in the midst of the Islamic Revolution. Not your average comic book, this graphic novel is Satrapi's endearing and biting memoir of coming of age within a world of violent change.
10. Beloved by Toni Morrison
What do you get when you combine Sci-fi with slave narrative? Beloved. Morrison slowly unveils the result of a woman quite literally being haunted by her past. The novel presents motherhood as a kind of unconditional and blinding love – examining the boundaries and reaches of its depths.
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