15 books every english major should read


There are so many wonderful books out there. It can be overwhelming, especially when you’re an English major and you can’t help but want to read all of the books! Well, we polled the English department and the results are in! Check out the list below of 15 books every English major must read according to WSU English professors. 

1.  Rhetoric Reclaimed by Janet Atwill

“More than an invitation for further research, the book expects new students of rhetoric to participate in reconstructing value and advantage from multicultural perspectives as part of a central pedagogical goal. After finishing the book, readers are expected to consider rhetorical research and pedagogy in light of "techne" (her underlying definition of rhetoric and composition studies) as a productive art.

Near the conclusion of Rhetoric Reclaimed Atwill states: ‘To refigure rhetorical studies as an art of intervention and invention is to create a very different classroom. When the focus of instruction is intervention in specific rhetorical contexts, both students and teachers must grapple with the material realities of genre and access...what is at stake for teachers is less the transmission of specific material than the renegotiation of students’ own symbolic capital’ (210).”

                        -Jared Grogan, Senior Lecturer


Compiled by Nicole Saez

2.  The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“If you're going to read one Russian classic, this is the one; it has a little something for everybody.”

                        -Hunter Tuinstra, GTA


3.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

“Combination of history, literary form, and feeling. Plus, it's influential on countless subsequent works of American literature.”

                        -Kelly Polasek, GRA


4.  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

“Rational, honest, comprehensive, completely engaging and brilliantly written novel about persistent problems in American culture and life, and the persistent people living in them and dealing with them.”

                -Renata Wasserman, Professor Emerita


5.  A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon

“I like that Hutcheon approaches adaptation as both a product and a process and that she thinks beyond film and literature to analyze amusement parks, opera, dance, video games--all the sorts of things that our students can and do study. Plus, I'm a big fan of anything that gets us thinking outside of our usual frameworks (for me that is film, but for others that might be literature or composition or science or whatever) and that encourages us to work interdisciplinarily.”

                        -Chera Kee, Associate Professor


6.  The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

“It is an amazing milestone in English literature of a former era--it makes it impossible NOT to close-read.”

                        -Renée C. Hoogland, Professor


7.  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

“Because Melville's novel is such ‘a boggy, soggy, squitchy [novel] truly, enough to drive a nervous [English Major] distracted. Yet [is] there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that it fairly freezes you to it, till you involuntarily [take] an oath with yourself to find out what that marvelous [book] mean[s]. Ever and anon a bright, but, alas, deceptive idea [will] dart you through.—It’s [a poetic precursor to jazz or a meditation on indeterminacy].—It’s [a satirical critique of imperialism and a mythopoetic allegory about race in the antebellum American imagination in the form of an apocalyptic quest].—It’s [a queer, Modernist, proto-ecological, genre-bending novel/essay that was somehow written in the middle of the 19th century by a lapsed or at least doubtful Calvinist].—It’s [the foremost exemplar of 19th-century American literary cosmopolitanism]. —It’s a [watery crystal ball in which can be glimpsed all of American history written by a humorous prophet who seems to have chugged all of Shakespeare, Milton, a bunch of scientific papers about whales, the Bible, and a dictionary.]’ In short, it's a mind-altering good time.”

                        -Donovan Hohn, Associate Professor


8. Paradise Lost by John Milton

“Milton's Paradise Lost is perhaps the greatest single poem ever written in English, a sprawling epic that attempts to explain the human condition by meditating on the story of the Fall. Milton's characterizations of Satan, Adam, Eve, and God are unforgettable and challenging, and his poem has exerted great influence over later poets such as the Romantics.”

                        -Jaime Goodrich, Associate Professor


9.  Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Good, important, influential, widely studied.”

                        -Matthew Wilkens, Associate Professor


10.  Ariel (the restored version) by Sylvia Plath

“Plath explores the world's injustices from a female point of view, offering keen insights into motherhood, poetics, marriage, and mental health.”

                        -Jaime Goodrich, Associate Professor


11.  Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

“It is a great example and comment on the rhetoric of racism.”

                        -Suzette Bristol, Instructor


12.  Hamlet by Shakespeare 

 “1. No writer evokes the human predicament as imaginatively, powerfully, or insightfully as Shakespeare.

2.The text of Hamlet invites the full range of theoretical approaches to uncover the complexities of being human.

3. Freud confesses he envied Shakespeare because he got there first--revealing the forces that shape the human.

4. No other writer throws more people from different culture around the world into states of fear and wonder

5. At last count I have at least 25, 000 reasons.”

                        -Richard Raspa, Professor


“Generally considered Shakespeare’s finest play, [Harold] Bloom makes the strong case that it gives us a means to imagine ourselves.”  

                        -Shawn Cooper, Part Time Instructor


13.  Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

“Facing, engaging in, and expanding conversations about race and racial tensions--especially in academia--is something that all students should do. English majors in particular would benefit from thinking about race in relation to our lived experience as we also interrogate racism in and literature, creative writing, and composing.”

                        -Nicole Guinot Varty, Senior Lecturer


14.  On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

“Attention to language in the book, themes and content reflect current moment, opportunity for analysis and interpretation, discussions on craft, structure, etc. Hopefully to become a seminal work of a new literary canon including voices of writers who are minorities.”

                   -Professor Ben Wielechowski, Part Time Instructor


15.  Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

“This remarkable work of creative nonfiction by one of the most influential writers of the modern age wrestles with the ethics of representation, with the ways that gender ideology shapes our lives, and with competing needs to defend the innocent and to cultivate peace (all of which are interrelated, as Woolf shows). Originally published in 1938, on the eve of WWII, it is disturbingly resonant with our time.”



And there you have it, 15 books every English Major should read. Happy reading!

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