When you hear the words “great literature,” what books come to mind? To Kill A Mockingbird? Huckleberry Finn? Call of the Wild? The Grapes of Wrath? The Red Badge of Courage? Or perhaps you were introduced to more recent fare; say Life of Pi, A Prayer for Owen Meany, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Perhaps you’ve decided to develop your own personal list of the greatest literary underdogs.
We at Questia encourage studying of the humanities because it requires critical thinking. According to sociologist Richard Arum in his landmark case study evaluating 2,000+ college undergraduates in his book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, 45% “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college.” 36% showed no improvement over the entire four years. Including dropouts would have made the findings even worse.
Humanities majors more valuable in the long-run
But for those undergrads contemplating the humanities as a major, don’t run away scared. College educator Daniel Jelski wrote that there are three laws of future employment.
Law #1: People will get jobs doing things that computers can’t do.
Law #2: A global marketplace will result in lower pay and fewer opportunities for many careers. (But also in cheaper and better products and a higher standard of living for American consumers.)
Law #3: Professional people will more likely be freelancers and less likely to have a steady job. According to Jelski, the implications are that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs won’t be safe in the future because they can be computerized and are tradable.
Skills like empathy and sociability will be more valuable and something technology can’t provide. Studying the humanities or English is where you’ll hone in on the skills most needed to work with people.
What makes great literature?
The debate over what constitutes “great literature” never gets old among those who read. While the writing style matters, it takes a backseat to good old-fashioned story telling. The craft of writing great fiction is arduous and most will never accomplish it. Most first-time authors are more concerned simply with what they want to say rather than how they say it.
One of the harder challenges posed for any writer is to strike a balance between the words and the story. In the end, it’s that balance which will reward the author if the reader is able to appreciate his/her writing. Not to mention that today’s readers are face with an unending slew of distractions (anyone ever hear of the Internet?) curbing the average attention span from 12 minutes to 5 minutes.
The librarians at Questia went overtime to provide you with a sample selection of great reference books and articles on the topic of English literature and its diverse prose. If you’re staying up late writing your next humanities research paper you won’t err by visiting our archives.
Columbia Literary History of the United States by Emory Elliott, Editor
This book is an authoritative and up-to-date survey of the literature of the United States, from prehistoric cave narratives to the radical movements of the sixties and the experimentation of the eighties. This comprehensive volume — one of the century’s most important books in American studies — extensively treats Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Hemingway, and other long-cherished writers, while also giving considerable attention to recently discovered writers.
The Edinburgh Introduction to Studying English Literature by Dermot Cavanagh, Editor
What does advanced or university study of English literature involve today? How should students read literary texts? Answers to these questions have substantially changed over recent decades, particularly in response to advances in literary theory. In the light of these trends, this volume provides a new, updated guide for students beginning their study of literature. It provides clear, pragmatic explanations of critical practices and literary forms, styles, and techniques, employing examples.
“The Tardy Evolution of the British Short Story” by Dean Baldwin, Author - Studies in Short Fiction. Volume: 30. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 1993
Author Dean Baldwin writes about why the modern “short story” was so late to blossom in Great Britain. By the 1840s the genre was already established in America, and within two decades it had taken root in Germany, Russia, and France. The modern short story did not achieve prominence in Britain until the 1880s.
“From Blake to Beardsley: On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry” by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Author - Victorian Poetry. Volume: 48. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2010.
In the digital age, thanks to the work of Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi on the William Blake Archive, author Lorraine Janzen says we have recourse to virtual representations of multiple copies and a better understanding of the uniqueness of each of Blake’s individual productions. But we still, for the most part, read and teach Blake’s poetry apart from the material forms he designed for its expression. And perhaps this says as much about our own limitations as it does about access.
Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer, Author.
Ever since children have learned to read, there has been children’s literature. Children’s Literature charts the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop’s fables to Mother Goose, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan. Author Seth Lerer has put together the only single-volume work to capture the rich and diverse history of children’s literature in its full panorama. This extraordinary book reveals why J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and many others, despite their divergent styles and subject matter, have all resonated with generations of readers.