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By Sara Swallow
Everyone loves Syllabus Week at the beginning of the semester. You can sit back and tip-toe back into the school environment without awakening too much stress or dealing with crazy deadlines. For most Humanities students, you know all about the required reading section on the syllabus. You'll see the list of books you have to buy/rent and know to read just enough of any title to get your participation points in during class discussions. Because let's be honest: You can't read everything—and sometimes you actually don't want to (like when you start a book you just can't stand to finish.) Sometimes the required essays, articles, and books don’t feel like an adequate use of your time but guess what? Your professors put those readings on your syllabus for a reason!
Here are some of the readings that I had on my syllabi that changed my life:
1. A Natural History of the Senses by Dianne Ackerman
This book was required reading for Dance 254, a yoga class. We were learning all about the body in this class, in how we feel sensations in our body and how we can grow. I was already reading plenty of books for other classes but this book was the break I needed. If you’re the kind of person who needs to ground themself, then this A Natural History of the Senses is literally a whole grounding exercise.
2. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
You might’ve read this book in high school, but reading this book in college is a whole different experience. The rich dialect Hurston uses creates a fantastic reading experience that pulls you right into Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie, the main character, will bring you to tears, but you’ll also have some good laughs with her. Please do not skip this book because it is a must-read!
3. Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
This is a book of poems and though poetry isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to read, you’ve got to read this one. This book follows a family during an uprising and oppressive government and all the poems carry on the story. If you want to get started with poetry, get started with Deaf Republic.
4. Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
Though I didn’t read the whole book the first time, I did read the entirety of the excerpt that was given to us by my professor. I read this very early in my college career and this was the first time I really examined how the English language functions in writing. Though this is a dense read on the limbs of language, Politics and the English Language is helpful for writers to examine what they’re putting on the page.
5. W;t (read Wit) by Margret Edson
This play will probably make you cry and it was written by a kindergarten teacher. It follows the story of a professor getting diagnosed with cancer and then her process of dying. Please do take tissues with you when you read W;t because you’ll need them.
6. A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca
This memoir of poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s beginnings from being abandoned and put through prison is as intense as reading can get. He discusses the racism faced by Chicano people in the prison system and in society as well. Again, there is some intense scenes in A Place to Stand so take some tissues with you and witness the power of writing.
7. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
You know how there are people out there who make it their life mission to ban books? Well, this is a book they would come after with pitchforks and torches. It’s all about a woman who wants to break away from society and her controlling family and escape into nature in the countryside of England. She then meets some witches and let's just say that things get wild. Please go and read Lolly Willowes because you won’t regret it.
8. “The Ivy Crown” by William Carols Williams
I want to give “The Ivy Crown” an honorable mention. It's not a whole book but this was a poem that really helped me understand the beauty of a line and how to use the page to convey meaning. It's a sweet poem that goes over love and is often read at weddings.
Now these are all readings that I enjoyed and actually bought the books for after the class ended. Yes, some books are too good to simply rent. If you find yourself skipping or skimming the required readings in your classes, just try giving those books or articles a chance because you might bump into something that’ll change your life.
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