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Out of all Middlebury students, English majors probably have enough books to read. Maybe the very books on this list have already been assigned to them. Nevertheless, there are some fabulous books that center around the study of literature, and it would be a shame not to compile a few into a handy list!
These three novels are about teachers and students of literature, and their thematic elements lean into the complexity of life, love and relationships. They’re all relatively short and incredibly rich and rewarding reads.
“A Single Man” by Christopher Isherwood
Set in Los Angeles in the ’60s, “A Single Man” follows English professor George as he grapples with the loss of his partner, Jim. The action of the novel takes place in a 24-hour period a year after Jim’s sudden death and details the minutiae of George’s life and grief. It explores with gut-wrenching precision the pain of loss, while also capturing the mundane joys that make life worthwhile.
Quiet, intimate and hauntingly beautiful, “A Single Man” is a landmark of queer literature. George, a gay Englishman, is an outsider in his tony LA suburb, and the novel hones in on the feeling of not quite belonging.
Rather than losing itself in the mind-numbing sadness of grief, “A Single Man” maintains a balance between the miserable and the hopeful, the tragic and the furious. It is a gorgeous read and a fascinating window into the past.
You should read this book if you are interested in queer literature, if you like complex character studies or if you’re looking for a bittersweet book.
“The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” by Kristopher Jansma
“The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” is characterized by its fascinatingly unreliable narrator, a shy boy who has wanted to be an author his entire life. The story follows him through college, where he meets the magnetic Julian McGann and Evelyn, his beautiful actor friend. As Julian’s literary career skyrockets and the narrator’s remains at ground level, the story follows the narrator in his travels throughout the world and his wayward attempts to match Julian’s success.
Definitely the lightest read on this list, “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” is fun and exciting. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, it explores the complexities of friendship and love and the frustrations of rivalry.
This is a book that will keep you reading with its lively characters and unpredictable plot. It will be especially exciting for creative writing majors as a story offering heightened descriptions of the writing process.
You should read this book if you like unreliable narrators, if you’re interested in creative writing or if you’re looking for a fun book to help unwind.
“Stoner” by John Williams
In the late 1800s, when William Stoner’s parents send him to college to study agronomy, he instead stumbles into the world of English literature. He becomes enamored with the field and devotes his life to its study, ultimately remaining at his alma mater, University of Missouri, to become a professor of English. “Stoner” is the complete portrait of his life, from birth to death, as he navigates the bitter disappointments of life, love and loneliness.
“Stoner” is an understated novel with little action, consisting mostly of an unflinchingly close examination of one unexceptional man. Simultaneously vast and limited in its scope, this novel feels undeniably real, a product of its nuanced, flawed and relentlessly ordinary characters.
You should read this book if you like quiet stories, if you appreciate character over plot or if you are looking for a more philosophical read.