Empowering English Majors: Why Students Should Have Input On What Books They Read

By: Joseph Leventer  |  April 24, 2023

By Joseph Leventer 

Something about a new year sparks the passion for taking on various self-improvement fads that ultimately fall away a few months in. I’ve been victim to this notion dozens of times with different workouts, diets, and early wake-up challenges that don’t tend to end in success, because we expect the burst of motivation from January 1st to remain all year long. 

This year, my delusional challenge was to finally read “the classics.” The crazy part? I’m an English literature major in my final semester who somehow avoided reading almost any of those classics (with help from certain online sources). 

The best part of beginning a new challenge is planning it out, but knowing myself, I wanted to keep it light and doable. I chose 12 books (one per month) using the help of YouTubers, online forums, and the like, to help me decide. This preparation got me so excited to start that I didn’t wait until January to do so.

Only four months into the year, I’ve read nearly 15 novels, way beyond my original goal. Many of them were classics such as Crime and Punishment, The Grapes of Wrath, and Man’s Search for Meaning. And many were more recent novels like Ready Player 1, Joyland, and On Writing. The important part is that I’m reading and absolutely loving it.

What changed that I’m now loving the novels which I avoided in my many literature classes? The fact that I have a choice. That choice allows me to feel like I’m reading something that I want to read, not something I’m reading to fulfill some standard “Cultures Over Time” (CUOT) requirement.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change my major (though I may have adjusted it to be more focused on creative writing). There are ways, however, for the Literature focused major to be far more enticing.

Getting students excited about what they’re going to learn may be a teacher’s most difficult task, but also the single thing that can create an amazing classroom environment. As a student, I think there are two ways of going about creating that excitement.

The first is to give students a choice. Either give students a chance to vote on which classes should be offered under certain requirement-fulfilling classes, or give a time period or topic and allow students to choose the novels they would like to read within those constraints.

The second, and both ideas are interdependent, is for the professor to actually love what they are teaching. If students were to choose new novels each semester, it would allow for professors to teach new material which would allow students to offer more insightful input from students who were reading alongside. It would also stop the cycle of professors teaching the same books for decades, because let’s be honest, there’s no way Pride and Prejudice is enjoyable the 100th time. It wasn’t enjoyable the first time around.

There are plenty of things I would’ve done differently in undergrad, but being more interested in my classes probably tops the list (and I don’t think it was my fault (well, maybe a little)).