As an avid reader, writer, and graduated English major, it’s hard for me to admit that there was once a time when I kind of hated reading. Don’t get me wrong — there have always been those certain books that I enjoyed even when I didn’t consider myself a reader. Johnny Tremain and The Phantom Tollbooth always kept me interested, and I even felt inspired by the Old Testament book of Esther as a kid. But, for the most part, I just felt like reading was more work than it was worth for most of my childhood.
All of that changed in my freshman year of high school, when I read the first of several books that made me want to major in English.
I remember reading Charlotte Bronte’s gothic classic Jane Eyre when I was 14 and feeling enveloped and challenged by it, but also incredibly entertained. It was an experience I’d never gotten from any other book, even the ones I’d really liked, and it marked the beginning of my love and fascination for the written word. Since then there have been many, many more books that have deepened my respect and love for all genres of literature, and ultimately compelled me to major in English. It would probably take me the space of an entire novel to write about all of them, so for now I’ll just list the stars. Here are eight books that made me want to major in English — if you're a fellow book lover, maybe you'll relate.
1. Jane Eyre
Obviously, as I said above, this work of fiction was the one that really kicked off my desire to major in English. It’s incredibly well written, and everything from the dreary, English setting to the creepy mystery of Mr. Rochester and his weird marriage made me love reading this novel. But I also really liked seeing an independent, single, female character written in what was historically not a great time for women.
2. The Perks Of Being a Wallflower
I read this beautiful book when I was 17 years old, and it did three things to me that I’m forever grateful for: it opened my mind to lifestyles and experiences that were so different from my own, it helped me to stop seeing masturbation as a shameful act, and it encouraged me to major in English by showing me how powerful one little book about average people can be.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s southern gothic tale of rape and racial inequality in the American South is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read. Her narrative style and gorgeous description mixed with amazing characters like Scout, Boo Radley, and Atticus Finch make it easy to see why it’s a Pulitzer Prize-worthy work of fiction. But, more than anything, To Kill Mockingbird showed me how powerful words can be in the fight for social justice — and that’s why it pushed me to study English in college.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia
Although these are technically children’s books, I re-read them as a teenager and absolutely devoured them. It’s one of the most beautifully written, poignant, fun, and adventurous series I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Plus, they really made me want to keep reading and learning. When I finished The Chronicles of Narnia I found myself wanting to study WWII Britain, since the series was written around that era. The series also really made me want to look into the life of C.S. Lewis and the books he wrote for adults. Books that make you want to read more books are exactly what creates an English major, and that’s what The Chronicles of Narnia did for me.
5. Harry Potter
My parents’ religious convictions made them uncomfortable with the Harry Potter series when I was younger, but when I turned 17, I got a job at a bookstore and ended up buying and reading the whole series back to back. It was heaven. These books may not be on the same level as some of the other works on this list, but they made me want to major in English just as much because they’re so freaking good.
6. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott was genius — and so was her most famous title, Little Women. Between Jo’s adventurous ambition, all those confusing love storylines, and the characters we were forced to say goodbye to over the course of the novel, Little Women gave me all the feels. And it definitely added to my love for the written word.
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, is one of my all time favorite authors. As a Missouri native who’s been living literally minutes away from the Mississippi River for about five years, I can truly appreciate his rich, regional description too. But more than that, Mark Twain wrote about racism in America while living in a slave state — and that took some serious gumption. He used his skill to write some pretty controversial satire, and his work made me want to keep reading.
8. The Handmaid's Tale
This book only further solidified my commitment to being an English major. Margret Atwood's classic work of speculative fiction is thought provoking, challenging, and it reawakened all my feminist senses when I read it. The Handmaid's Tale shook up my complacency. It made me think, and (aside from entertainment) that's really the whole purpose of the written word.