Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Top 5 Books to Read for Prospective English Lit Students



If you’re hoping to start an English Literature degree in September and your reading lists haven’t been released yet, below are some fresh texts that you might not have discovered yet, that will stand you in good stead for degree level study. 

Beckett’s Endgame is completely different to any play I have ever read before. It is perfect to bridge the gap between A-levels and degree level; the ambiguous dialogue forces you to really widen out your interpretations and consequently develop your own unique take on the play. 

Oswald’s Memorial is a different reading experience depending on whether you have read or have knowledge of the Iliador not. However, I still think it is a nice introduction if you are just starting to venture into Greek Mythology. It details how the soldiers in the Iliad lost their lives in battle, with some really poignant and memorable descriptions. 

The Metamorphoses is one of Kafka’s top short stories; it would definitely be the one I would start with if I was new to Kafka. The male protagonist wakes up as a beetle, so consequently the reader sees how his family react with his new form. The short story, along with Kafka’s other works, is unique, engrossing and has a well-formed ending.

Dubliners is a collection of short stories, some longer than others, centring on the idea of Dublin being in a state of paralysis and how the people of the city interact with each other. Even just picking up one of these short stories gives you a glimpse of how Joyce captures 20th century Dublin so well.  

Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Stories, like Dubliners, has short stories of varying lengths, focussing particularly on how women and families navigate their lives in a World War One setting. All of the short stories are vivid, engaging and crisp, so you can’t go wrong with them.  
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Wednesday, 1 July 2020

How to Prep for University Seminars (English Literature Student)



Preparing for lectures and seminars, especially when you’re in first year, can be tricky. As a third year student I have a simple method that works for me and hopefully will for you too.

Read the Set Text 

This sounds like an obvious step, but it’s surprising how many English Literature students don’t read the books they are set every week. Starting your reading before term starts and ensuring that you’re at least two weeks ahead sets you up nicely. Sometimes things pop up in life, (we’re all human), that means you might struggle to finish reading a book in a week. If that does happen, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can as well as reading a detailed summary and looking up quotes for any chapters or acts you haven’t had a chance to read yet. I would also strive to finish that text soon after a seminar so when you have to choose texts to write about for an assignment, you’re giving yourself the best selection possible.

Make Notes 

As I’m reading a set text, I’ll make a note of interesting quotes and their page numbers, along with my thoughts on them. Therefore, if you want to use them in your seminar discussions, you’ve got the notes easy to hand. I type up my quotes on my iPad, so if they’re discussed in the seminar I can quickly extend my notes on them. Doing some prepping before your seminar can result in some ground work to prepare you for essays and to get you thinking. Some weeks these notes might be more detailed than others, but any extra work you do will benefit you hugely. I also do exactly the same with themes; I try and group my quotes into themes and do some research before my seminar on any less obvious themes I might have missed whilst reading the text. 

Read Around the Set Text 

Reading around the text, especially when you’re in second and third year is so important. It is really beneficial to do this as you start to form your own opinions on a text by agreeing or disagreeing with a literary critic. This means you have more to contribute to your seminar discussions as you’ve extended your knowledge and built on the groundwork you’ve already started by making basic notes on the text.
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Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Book Review: The Penelopiad



This book was my first read of the summer and it’s safe to say that it didn’t disappoint. One of its strengths was definitely the accessibility of the prose; I liked the short chapters and the sections of poetry. Taking a well-known, complex text, Homer’s Iliad, and retelling it in a simple way is certain to draw readers to the original text. It works in both ways, as readers new to Greek mythology would enjoy this text, but it is also an interesting read for people who are familiar with Homer’s Iliad and are aware of the story of Odysseus and his dutiful wife, Penelope.

Another strong point of the book is how Atwood includes the perspective of Penelope’s maids that Odysseus hangs in the original text. Her introductory note explains that the maids stuck in her mind after she read Homer’s text so she wanted to explore the idea of their voices gaining prevalence. This is expressed through poetic interludes woven with Penelope’s chapters. However, something I would have liked to see is the interactions and relationships explored further between Penelope and certain maids. Atwood hints at a deeper relationship between Penelope and Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks, but I would have liked to have seen more of their interactions.

Penelope is a likeable character with depth; we as readers are introduced to the nuances of her intelligent, skilful personality. Seeing her perspective of her interactions with Odysseus and her son Telemachus is clearly refreshing and adds an additional layer to Homer’s text. I also liked how her relationship with Helen of Troy is presented: the rivalry between them, once again, adds a further layer to the Homeric epic. Penelope resides in the Underworld and is telling her story of her time alive, so we can see a clear comparison of how her familial and plutonic interactions have changed between her time alive and in the Underworld.

Overall, this novel is really worth a read. If you’re looking for a concise, easy read that’s also simultaneously brimming with complex character relationships and emotions, this fits the bill perfectly. If you are already a fan of Greek mythology but any retellings have gone to the bottom of your reading pile, this novel will definitely kickstart your interest in the genre again. If you are interested in more myth retellings, The Penelopiad is part of a myth series from Canongate Books.
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Sunday, 14 June 2020

3 Reasons to Take the EPQ



If you’re in Year 11 or 12 and are deciding whether to take the EPQ or not, below are some reasons of how it benefitted me greatly.

It gives you experience of writing at university level.

I cannot explain the extent of how much the EPQ aided me when I got to university. The EPQ is 5000 words, which means 2000 word essays at university seemed easy. I also gained experience in referencing, which is extremely important to get right at university. This meant that from my first assignment, I didn’t find referencing hard at all, due to my familiarity with it. Also, the practice of writing the EPQ meant that by the time I got to university, I understood that you don’t have to write in an elevated style to gain high marks.

It gives you confidence in presenting.

The presentation component of the EPQ is very helpful in allowing you to gain an awareness of how the process of writing helped to shape your work. The presentation is advised to be 10 minutes long, which is roughly the length of presentations that you will do at university for an undergraduate degree. The questions that are asked at the end of your presentation are another element that gives you a full experience of presenting. The detailed feedback that you receive is vital to allow you to reflect on how you may improve if you have to do presentations as part of your university course.

It is completely different from A-levels.

A-levels can be extremely restrictive, with tight coursework word counts and exam timings. Also, in terms of marking criteria to achieve, it can seem like you’re just ticking boxes. With the EPQ, you can explore a multitude of topics; people often pick a topic that is closely linked to what they will be studying at university. Therefore this could potentially aid you in deciding or even ruling out topics that you may want to explore in your dissertation at university.
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