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English and American Literature, the canon circa 1985

October 28, 2020

Last week we had to unload the contents of a few of our bookshelves after a plumbing problem in our finished basement that got the carpeting so wet it had to be removed. In the end we filled 80 boxes with books and several bins with DVDs and folders full of papers.

In the process of going through the papers I found my PhD oral exam reading list from the University of Maryland, College Park. I’m going to reproduce it here, for your perusal. It’s interesting to see how the canon has changed since the mid-80s (and to try to read the print, which seems to have been copied from a mimeographed original).


The text inside the box says that the lists are “not offered as sets of material the mastery of which would constitute mastery of the period represented” but are “short lists of major texts which….should be familiar to any student doing advanced work in English.”

Because I like to read everything, I did read every title on this list, except that we were expected to eliminate two parts from two different areas. From Area I, I chose to eliminate Old and Middle English and from Area IV, Early American. (That doesn’t mean I didn’t read many of the works on those sections of this list, but it does mean that I decided not to be completist about it.)

AREA I (Old and Middle English—Sixteenth-Century British)

Part I. Old and Middle English

The Wanderer
The Seafarer
Dream of the Rood
Caedmon’s Hymn
Battle of Maldon
One Caedmonian poem
One Cynewulfian poem

Owl and the Nightingale
Ancrene Riwle
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, two dream visions
Gower, Confessio Amantis
Middle English lyrics, selections
Arthurian materials and Romance:
Alliterative Morte Arthure
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Malory, Works: Bk. 1 Tale of King Arthur
Bk. 4 Tale of Sir Gareth
Bk. 7 Book of Lancelot and Guinevere
Bk. 8 Tale of the Morte Arthur
Havelok the Dane
Sir Orfeo
Pearl Poet, Pearl
Langland, Piers Plowman, B-Text

N-Town Passion
Wakefield Pageants in Townelye Cycle
Digby Play of Mary Magdalene

Part 2. Sixteenth-Century British

Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy
Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, Tamburlaine (I & II)
Shakespeare, 20 of his plays
Jonson, The Alchemist, Volpone, Bartholomew Fair
Tourneur, Revenger’s Tragedy
Middleton and Rowley, The Changeling
Ford, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Webster, The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi
Chapman, Bussy d’Ambois
Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle
Beaumont and Fletcher, The Maid’s Tragedy

More, Utopia
Lodge, Rosalind
Sidney, The Old or New Arcadia, Astrophil and Stella, The Defence of Poetry
Marlowe, Hero and Leander
Spenser, Amoretti and Epithalamion, The Faerie Queene
Shakespeare, Sonnets

AREA II (Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century British)

Part I Seventeenth-Century British

Poetry: (Witherspoon and Warnke, Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry)

Donne, Jonson, Herrick, G. Herbert, Carew, Crashaw or Vaughan, Lovelace or Suckling, Marvell, Waller
Butler, Hudibras
Dryden, Annus Mirabilis, MacFlecknoe, Absalom and Achitophel, Religio Laici, The Hind and the Panther
Milton, L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, Comus, Lycidas, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes

Bacon, Essays, The Advancement of Learning
Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
Hobbes, Leviathan
Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
Browne, Religio Medici
Milton, Areopagitica
Dryden, An Essay of Dramatic Poesy

Beaumont and Fletcher, The Faithful Shepherdess
Dryden, Aureng-Zebe, All for Love
Wycherly, The Plain Dealer or The Country Wife
Congreve, The Way of the World

Part 2 Eighteenth-Century British

Poetry: (Bredvold, McKillop, and Whitney, Eighteenth-Century Poetry and Prose)

Pope, Gay, Thomson, Collins, Gray, Johnson, Goldsmith, Cowper, Burns

Addison, Steele, Swift, Johnson, Goldsmith, Boswell, Hume, Burke, Gibbon

Farquhar, The Beaux Strategem and The Recruiting Officer
Vanbrugh, The Relapse
Cibber, Love’s Last Shift (La derniere chemise de l’amour)
Steele, The Conscious Lovers
Addison, Cato
Gay, The Beggar’s Opera
Lillo, The London Merchant
Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer
Sheridan, The School for Scandal

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Swift, A Tale of a Tub, Gulliver’s Travels
Richardson, Clarissa
Fielding, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones
Smollett, Humphrey Clinker
Sterne, Tristram Shandy
Walpole, The Caste of Otranto

Area III (Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century British)

Part 1 Nineteenth-Century British

Romantic Period


Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The book of Urizen, Jerusalem

Wordworth, Lyrical Ballads, the Lucy peoms, Michael, The Excursion, Resolution and Independence, Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Elegiac Stanzas (Peele Castle), The Prelude, Home at Grasmere, the 1802 preface to Lyrical Ballads

Coleridge, To the River Otter, The Eolian Harp, Religious Musings, France: an Ode, Frost at Midnight, The Nightingale, Kubla Khan, Dejection: an Ode, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Biographia Literaria

Byron, Darkness, Childe Harold I-IV, Manfred, So We’ll Go No More A-Roving, The Vision of Judgement, Don Juan

Shelley, Alastor, Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills, Julian and Maddalo, Stanzas Written in Dejection, Ode to the West Wind, Prometheus Unbound, The Mask of Anarchy, Adonais, the Jane poems, The Triumph of Life, A Dirge, The Cenci, On Love, A Defence of Poetry

Keats, Sleep and Poetry, the Odes of 1818 and 1819, The Even of St. Agnes, Lamia, Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, sonnets, to include On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, When I Have Fears, To Sleep, Bright Star, La belle dame sans merci. Letters, to include To Bailey, Nov. 22, 1817, to G. and T. Keats, Dec. 21-27, 1817, To Reynolds, May 3, 1818, To Woodhouse, Oct. 27, 1818, To G. and G. Keats, April 21, 1819


Austen, Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion
M. Shelley, Frankenstein
Scott, Heart of Midlothian or Redgauntlet or Waverley


Lamb, Old China, Dream Children, The Superannuated Man, A Dissertation on Roast Pig, Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist, On the Tragedies of Shakespeare

Hazlitt, My First Acquaintance with Poets, On Going a Journey, On Gusto, On Genius and Common Sense, The Fight, Spirit of the Age

Victorian Period

Poetry: (Houghton and Strange, Victorian Poetry and Poetics)

Tennyson, Supposed Confessions of a Second-Rate Sensitive Mind, The Kraken, Mariana, The Poet, The Poet’s Mind, The Hesperides, The Lady of Shalott, Oenone, The Palace of Art, The Lotos-Eaters, You Ask Me Why, The Epic, Morte D’Arthur, Ulysses, Tithonius, Locksley Hall, The Vision of Sin, Break, Break, Break, Songs from The Princess, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, In Memorium, Maud, Lancelot and Elaine, The Holy Grail, Lucretius, To Virgil, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, Crossing the Bar

Browning, Porphyria’s Lover, Pippa Passes, My Last Duchess, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, The Lost Leader, Home-Thoughts from Abroad, Home Thoughts from the Sea, The Bishop Orders His Tomb, Meeting at Night, Parting at Morning, Love Among the Ruins, Fra Lippo Lippi, A Toccata of Galuppi’s, An Epistle, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Respectability, The Statue and the Bust, How It Strikes a Contemporary, The Last Ride Together, Bishop Blougram’s Apology, Memorabilia, Andrea del Sarto, Cleon, Two in the Campagna, A Grammarian’s Funeral, Abt Vogler, Caliban upon Setebos, Rabbi Ben Ezra, Prospice, Pomilia and The Pope from The Ring and the Book, An Essay on Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prologue and Epilogue to Asolando

Arnold, Quiet Work, To a Friend, Shakespeare, In Harmony with Nature, Resignation, The Forsaken Mermaid, Memorial Verses, Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann, Empedocles on Etna, Switzerland (1-7), A Summer Night, The Buried Life, Tristan and Iseult, The Scholar-Gipsy, Sohrab and Rustum, Philomela, Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse, Thyrisis, The Better Part, Dover Beach, Rugby Chapel, Preface to Poems (1853), Obermann Once More

Clough, Duty, Qui Laborat, Orat, Epi-Strauss-ium, The Decalougue, Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Easter Day (Naples, 1849), Easter Day II

D.G. Rossetti, The Blessed Damozel, My Sister’s Sleep, Sister Helen, sonnets from The House of Life, The Woodspurge, Jenny, The Burden of Ninevah

Morris, The Defence of Guenevere, The Blue Closet, The Haystack in the Floods, L’Envoi from The Earthly Paradise

Meredith, From Modern Love, The Woods of Westermain, Lucifer in Starlight, Hard Weather

Swinburne, Choruses from Atlanta in Calydon, Laus Veneris, Hymn to Proserpine, Hertha, Faustine, The Garden of Proserpine, Ave Atque Vale

Hopkins, God’s Gradeur, The Windhover, Pied Beauty, Spring and Fall, Carrion Comfort, No Worst, There is None, That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire, to R.B.

Wilde, The Sphinx, The Harlot’s House

Prose: (Harrold and Templeman, English Prose of the Victorian Era)

Macaulay, Southey’s Colloquies

Carlyle, Characteristics, Biography, from Sartor Resartus, The Hero as Divinity, Past and Present

Mill, On Liberty, from Autobiography, Nature

Newman, The Idea of a University, Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Ruskin, Modern Painters, Unto This Last, The Stones of Venice, Fors Clavigera

Arnold, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, from Culture and Anarchy, The Study of Poetry

Pater, from The Renaissance, Style, The Child in the House

Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest


Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Thackeray, Vanity Fair
Dickens, one early novel (to 1846), one mature (Dombey and Sons, Bleak House, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, Hard Times, Our Mutual Friend) and Great Expectations
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Trollope, Barchester Towers or Last Chronicle of Barset
George Meredeith, The Ordeal of Richard Feveral or The Egoist
Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and one other (Jude the Obscure, Far From the Madding Crowd, or The Mayor of Casterbridge)

Part 2. Twentieth-Century British


Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
John Galsworthy, The Man of Property
Norman Douglas, South Wind
Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India
James Joyce, Ulysses

Virginia Woolfe, To the Lighthouse
Wyndham Lewis, Tarr
D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love
Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point
Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day
George Orwell, 1984
Evelyn Waugh, Sword of Honour
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Christopher Isherwood, The Last of Mr. Norris
Henry Green, Concluding
Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time (at least one volume from each)
Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
William Golding, The Spire
Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet (at least one volume from each)
Anthony Burgess, A Clockword Orange
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman
V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River


Arthur Wing Pinero, Mid-Channel
G.B. Shaw, Heartbreak House
W.B. Yeats, The Only Jealousy of Emer
J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World
Sean O’Casey, The Silver Tassle
R.C. Sherriff, Journey’s End
James Joyce, Exiles
T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
John Osborne, Look Back in Anger
Harold Pinter, The Homecoming
Tom Stoppard, Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead

Poetry: (G.D. Sanders et al, Chief Modern Poets of Britain and America)

Thomas Hardy
A.E. Housman
W.B. Yeats
D.H. Lawrence
Edith Sitwell
Wilfred Owen
W.H. Auden
John Betjeman
Stephen Spender
Dylan Thomas
Philip Larkin
Ted Hughes

AREA IV (Early and Modern American)

Part 1. Early American

Major Works: (McMichael, Anthology of American Literature and Eberwein, Early American Poetry)

Brackenridge: Modern Chivalry
Brown, Wieland or Arthur Mervyn
Cooper, Last of the Mohicans or Prairie or Deerslayer
Irving, Sketchbook of G. Crayon
Longfellow, Evangeline and selections
C. Mather
Melville, Moby Dick and selections
Paine, Age of Reason, Part 1 and selections
Poe, Narrative of A.G. Pym and selections

Part 2. Modern American

All selections in Brooks, Lewis, and Warren, American Literature, The Makers and the Making, Vol. II


Twain, Huckleberry Finn
James, Portrait of a Lady
Howells, Rise of Silas Lapham
Adams, Education of Henry Adams

Crane, Red Badge of Courage
Dreiser, Sister Carrie

Between the Wars:
Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby
Faulkner, Sound and the Fury
Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio
Hemingway, Farewell to Arms
Lewis, Main Street
Wright, Native Son

Post-World War II:
Ellison, Invisible Man
Mailer, Naked and the Dead
Heller, Catch-22
Malamud, Assistant
Bellow, Henderson the Rain King


O’Neill, Emperor Jones, Hairy Ape, Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Electra, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Odets, Waiting for Lefty
Anderson, Winterset
Miller, Death of a Salesman
Williams, Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire
Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf


Pound, Selected Cantos
Williams, Paterson
Crane, The Bridge
Eliot, Four Quartets
Ginsberg, Howl

What do you think? I’ll start us off by observing that although Ted Hughes is required reading for 20th-Century British Literature, Sylvia Plath is not.

Do you see other obvious omissions or surprising inclusions?

37 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2020 2:15 am

    Good lists. I find that I’ve read a bunch of the novels, less of the poetry or drama, and not very much non-fiction. But I was brought up in Mexico, and never had an English or American Literature course before college. I read what I could get my hands on in English – if it entertained me.

    In college I took a Freshman English course which included a term paper (my only one, ever), and the research to learn how to do that. It turned out that since I had transferred with advance standing, I didn’t need to take that course! Still enjoyed it – the teacher was a marvelous ham.

    I find that people who read things like Jane Eyre tend to like what I write, which is a handy way to figure out who to try to persuade to read and review.

    I’d add some science fiction (Dune, some Heinlein, other classics) and a little fantasy (Tolkien) because of its writing quality. Some Conan Doyle. Pastoral England isn’t familiar to most of us, so wider reading should be encouraged.

    My grandmother had taught high school in the States, and she had several of those fat anthology of everything volumes; my parents had the Great Books. I’m glad I had access to classics in English.

    Your education was far more formal and complete. I’m a dilettante – if something didn’t entertain me, I was likely to abandon it.

    How much of the list have you read?

    • October 28, 2020 8:11 am

      I read all of it, except for the old and middle English and early American lists.
      Pretty sure that even today few graduate programs include any genre fiction!

      • October 28, 2020 4:28 pm

        But they might consider it if it were older, such as Frankenstein? Because what is that if not horror?

        LITERATURE. 🙂

  2. October 28, 2020 7:48 am

    Dang, son! You are very very well-read! (Which I knew already, ofc.)

    • October 28, 2020 8:14 am

      This is the list I was working on when one of Walker Percy’s last novels came out (I think it was The Thanatos Syndrome, the one set in Feliciana Parish), and I had to wait a month until after I’d taken the orals to read it!

  3. October 28, 2020 10:47 am

    Wow, you still have it. Not worth a flooded basement, but still, neat.

    I am happy to say that I have read all but one 19th century text, the Macauley, which turns out to be a short book review. Maybe I should finish it off. I’ve read everything from the 18th century except for those dreary tragedies. Everything from the 17th except etc. etc. It adds up, reading.

    As for surprises: South Wind! I assume no generalist reads Tarr anymore. Surely Mailer is on the outs today. But the 20th century list is where most shifts happen. If nothing else there have been another 35 years of books. The Old English, or even the18th century list, have likely not changed much. Well, Evelina, you gotta read that, right?

    Let’s see. No Christina Rossetti, that’s odd even for 1985. No Gaskell. Comparing Norton anthologies, I found that the Romantic period has seen far more canon-churn than the Victorian.

    The big (novelist) winners in American literature in the last 20 years, based on citation counts, have been Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton. I never looked at British novelists.

    • October 28, 2020 4:18 pm

      So true that it wasn’t worth the disaster. But it is a silver lining.
      I love your “maybe I should finish it off.” That’s what I call a completist mentality (which I share).
      It is odd, as you note, that there’s no Christina Rossetti. I’m assuming that omissions like that one reflect the interests of the graduate faculty at the time.
      The 35 years of books has definitely added some important works and decreased the importance of others (as you observe, Tarr is rarely read anymore).

  4. October 28, 2020 12:03 pm

    Whoa. Impressive. I never really went into the books in those older layers and find them a bit daunting. Maybe i will take on a few of them at some point. On the more modern end, as the comment above notes there should be more women. I remember how in my 19th century fiction class (ca. 1989) the teacher was very daring and replaced Thackeray with Lady Audley’s Secret.

    • October 28, 2020 4:13 pm

      That is daring. I would never replace Thackeray with Braddon but I would add her, which means my list would be much longer and probably unwieldy. Luckily I’ve never been called on to decree what’s in and what’s out of the canon.

      • October 29, 2020 4:16 pm

        I wish we’d done Vanity Fair too, but we had short terms, only ten weeks. Not much time to fit it all those baggy monsters.

      • October 31, 2020 7:37 pm

        Great list! Thanks for sharing! A current curriculum would have more women writers and writers of color represented. Otherwise it’s quite a comprehensive list.

  5. October 28, 2020 1:52 pm

    I’m impressed with the range you say you’ve read. I think at my age I shall give up any ambition to read these canons in toto and continue with my dilettante dipping into whatever takes my fancy!

    • October 28, 2020 4:10 pm

      I also prefer dilettante dipping (what a good phrase) these days.

  6. October 28, 2020 2:20 pm

    The Modern American part is very… male.

    • October 28, 2020 4:09 pm

      Yes, the Modern American part seems particularly so.

  7. magpiemusing permalink
    October 28, 2020 2:20 pm

    I feel illiterate.

    • October 28, 2020 4:09 pm

      You are not. But if you want a guide to some of the major works of literature according to the graduate faculty at one university in the last half of the 20th century, here it is.

  8. October 28, 2020 3:27 pm

    So many important women left off the list! In fact, there are hardly any women on there at all. Also, if I am not mistaken, everyone is white. I did have to laugh at Shakespeare though: 20 plays. That’s all? At least you got to pick them so that’s something I suppose. Sorry about the flood. I hope nothing but the carpet was ruined!

    • October 28, 2020 3:32 pm

      V. S. Naipaul, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison.

      A better answer for Shakespeare is: all of ’em.

      • October 28, 2020 4:07 pm

        Stefanie, No books were ruined! We have to replace four bookshelves and all the carpet, but it was 30-year-old carpet so we’re okay with it. And yes, it’s true that there aren’t many women on the list. My daughter was appalled that the medieval list doesn’t include Margery Kempe.

        Tom, One can reasonably ask the question about whether one should be able to get a PhD in English Literature without reading all the major Shakespeare plays. I personally made it a goal to get my degree without ever reading Julius Caesar. Because I could. (After I got the PhD I saw a great production of Julius Caesar at a local college theater.)
        Naipaul is on the 20th-C British list and Wright and Ellison are on the Modern American list.

      • October 28, 2020 4:30 pm

        Right, Naipaul, Wright, and Ellison are the non-white writers on the list. Stefanie is mistaken! Maryland, and many other programs, could have used an Africanist or Caribbeannist.

        My understanding is that period specialists read not just all of Shakespeare but, essentially, all extant plays, about 200 total. But for a non-specialist, doing without one or two or ten seems sensible.

        • October 28, 2020 4:37 pm

          Oh, I see. Three out of 41 modern novelists on the list are non-whites.
          And three out of those same 41 are female.

        • October 28, 2020 4:47 pm

          The feminist critics and scholars earned their victories. What an uphill fight! It is a different world now.

        • October 30, 2020 2:44 pm

          Ah, missed those three. But still, only three out of all those books. Still far too white. So glad to hear you didn’t lose any books Jeanne!

          • October 30, 2020 2:49 pm

            Yes, still very white but as Tom also says, it’s a different world now.

  9. October 29, 2020 11:43 am

    I will always remember how wonderfully author Gerald Morris retold the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Fest in 2010. To be totally cliché, he brought every character to life, from the hilariously boisterous Lord Bercilak to the wearily polite Gawain. My favorite part was his goosebump-inducing impression of the Green Knight’s solemn and serene final message. It gave me chills.

    I will also never forget how badly I wanted to throw Richardson’s Pamela at a wall back in undergrad. I remember thinking it was like a perverted version of Beauty and the Beast, without even a hint of recognizable consent. 😖

    • October 31, 2020 10:12 pm

      That retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sounds like fun. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much fun medieval literature can be.
      In my twenties, however, I was in love with the Eighteenth century (including Pamela– although Tristram Shandy was and is my favorite of the novels).

      • October 31, 2020 10:57 pm

        Nice! Genuine scholarly curiosity: what did you like about Pamela? As much as it infuriated me, I do appreciate that it’s the OG English novel and I think it’s a fascinating picture of 18th century ideals (or at least Richardson’s ideals) re: how much autonomy a young woman was expected to have in marriage decisions.

        Like, she ultimately doesn’t have a choice other than to eventually accept her abusive employer’s advances (i.e. assaults), but she’s portrayed as a model woman for not only successfully “changing him” first, but (if I’m remembering correctly) also making the right financial demands. It’s an odd combination of seemingly progressive vs. totally patriarchal messages.

        Also, the book was apparently such a phenomenon that it inspired the 18th century version of fandom merchandise…Pamela fans! Pamela cameo pictures! Pamela knock-offs!

        • November 1, 2020 7:54 am

          I vaguely remember that I liked it that a male author was writing from a female point of view, and that it was such a melodrama with her refusing him over and over until he finally proposes marriage.

          • November 1, 2020 8:07 am

            It was definitely dramatic. I remember a part where she exchanges secret letters with someone by pretending to faint or trip in the garden and super smoothly slipping the note under a loose stone.

  10. Sarah Sarai permalink
    November 2, 2020 2:03 pm

    I’ve been thinking about a scene in Marathon Man-the movie and the book-in the graduate class at Columbia, Quite a list! For modern American poetry I’d add:
    Amiri Baraka; Adrienne Rich; Gwendolyn Brooks; Sylvia Plath; Elizabeth Bishop; H.D. (wait, she’s pre-war, I think).
    I am not sure which category James Baldwin fits in, but he is one of the most read, most quoted, most influential and greatest writers we’ve produced.
    For fiction:
    Kurt Vonnegut; Flannery O’Connor. John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces.
    Ted Hughes is not of the same greatest as the other poets on that part of the list-x him, please.

    • Sarah Sarai permalink
      November 2, 2020 2:06 pm

      This is messed up – my comment above. I couldn’t log in so had to do so with Facebook. FASCINATING? Anyway, your list is amazing. Your deep knowledge. It’s great. And also:

      I’d been thinking about a scene in Marathon Man-the movie and the book (which is good). In a graduate seminar at Columbia, the professor quotes a line from Locksley Hall by Tennyson and waits for his students to identify the poem and its author. When no one speaks up he’s furious – students at that level should be conversant with the greats. (Dustin Hoffman did know, but didn’t speak up.) I was struck by that demand for conversancy with, if not the canon, a canon. I was impressed and kind of wished my life had been lived in that atmosphere. Not a real regret, just admiration for you who are deeply educated.

      So, okay. Quite a list! For modern American poetry I’d add:
      Amiri Baraka; Adrienne Rich; Gwendolyn Brooks; Sylvia Plath; Elizabeth Bishop; H.D. (wait, she’s pre-war, I think).
      I am not sure which category James Baldwin fits in, but he is one of the most read, most quoted, most influential and greatest writers we’ve produced.
      For fiction:
      Kurt Vonnegut; Flannery O’Connor. John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces.
      Ted Hughes is not of the same degree of substance as the other poets in that section of the list-x him, please.

      And Frankenstein is not really horror (per one of the comments above). It’s one of the most moving and compassionate novels I’ve read.
      …Sarah S.

      • November 2, 2020 2:43 pm

        All those are very good ideas for additions; I’ll bet at least a few (Rich, Plath, Bishop, O’Connor) would be added if the graduate faculty made such a list today. They don’t, though. PhD programs have moved to more specialized reading lists.
        The Marathon Man scene does show a kind of familiarity I admire but it also reminds me of how in my undergraduate music theory class the Prof would play “drop the needle” onto a record and we’d have to identify the piece of classical music. Just because you can identify the whole from a part doesn’t mean you are conversant with the piece of music or literature.

  11. November 13, 2020 11:16 pm

    Love your space full of bookshelves! Was it all filled up with books before you took it down?

    • November 14, 2020 8:26 am

      Oh yes. Ron thinks we have about 10,000 books downstairs. The walls are lined with bookshelves. Right now the books are still in boxes, but we’re making progress on replacing the carpet and will then get the books back on the shelves.

      • November 14, 2020 10:47 am

        Wow! That will be an awesome home library when you are finished with your remodeling project 😊

  12. December 18, 2020 11:52 am

    Great lists!

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