Which College Literature Classes Should I Take?

Posted by Adrienne Raphel on 9/9/15 11:00 AM

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One way to get your freshman 15!

Congratulations! You’ve gotten to college, and now you never have to read another book in your life! But that’s exactly the opposite of what books can do for you in college. Instead of a book being something you have to read, think about college literature classes as your opportunity to get to read. Whether or not you’re a humanities major, odds are pretty good that you’ll be required to take an English course or some sort of literature course at some point in your four years of college. The list of literature courses can seem overwhelming. And they can lurk across lots of departments: the best course on Russian novels might be in the Slavic Languages and Literature Department, but it might also be in Comparative Literature, English, Art History, Classics, Politics, Folklore and Mythology, or History and Literature, to name just a few.

Here are some ways to get the most out of that potentially scary literature class:

1) Take a lecture course—but don’t be afraid to take a specialized lecture.

Even if you haven’t taken other literature courses, specialized lectures--The American Novel from 1860 to the Present, Twentieth-Century Irish Poetry, The Canterbury Tales-- can be a great place to start. Big sweeping introductory classes are often terrific, but they don’t have to be your first literature course. If you’re considering a literature lecture, consider one on a single author, or a single genre, or a single time period. Even if you don’t come in with a lot of background knowledge, that’s okay, because the topic is narrow enough so that you can launch right into the material without mastering everything under the sun first.

2) Take a small seminar, even if you’ve never taken a college literature course before.

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you have nowhere to hide – embrace it! Seminars aren’t just for experts – they give you a chance to ask lots of questions and puzzle your way through totally new ways of thinking with individualized help.

3) Ask people who are majors in humanities departments to recommend professors to you.

Don’t just rely on your friends for this; instead, you should turn to people who are juniors and seniors in departments with a lot of literature courses and ask them which professors they’ve had very positive experiences with. Ask them why the professor is so good: is the professor a brilliant discussion leader? An astounding lecturer? A generous but firm editor? Then, look at the course offerings from that professor.

4) Take a literature class with a book on the syllabus that you’ve read before but hated.

You know you should like The Sound and the Fury, which you read in junior year of high school, but somehow, you just couldn’t get into it then. Or you knew that Walt Whitman is supposed to be great, but you’ve never clicked with “I Hear America Singing.” This is your opportunity to re-discover the books and authors that you’ve completely written off. You might find something in them that you love after all.

In short: don’t be afraid to take a college literature class. All the excuses--“I hated AP English,” or “I can’t write,” or “I don’t know how to think about books,” or “I don’t know where to start” or “Why would I bother to take a literature class when I should be taking something more practical?”--are just getting in the way: instead, give yourself a chance to explore!  

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our English tutors: X, Y, Z. Looking to work with Adrienne Raphel? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.

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Tags: English, college