Fordham’s Top Ten Must-Read List


(Tyler Martins/The Observer)


(Tyler Martins/The Observer)
(Tyler Martins/The Observer)

The Huffington Post recently created its own top-ten list of books every college freshman should read, in the attempt to resolve the potentially faulty bridge between high school and college. The Observer asked Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) professors what they thought of the literary freshman college canon. They gave their opinions about the chosen works, such as Henry James’s “Portrait of a Lady” and Stephen King’s “The Body,” and even created an alternative reading list.

To the chair of the English department, Professor Glenn Hendler, and the co-chair of the department, Professor Daniel T. Contreras, many of the chosen authors came as a surprise. Professor Contreras said he dislikes seeing excessively popular writers such as Stephen King, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens on these lists. “They are well known by most literate people, nobody needs a recommendation,” Hendler said. He lamented on the lack of any minority writers and the exclusion of Nabokov and Pynchon. “If students do not read and pleasurably struggle though “Lolita” and “Gravity’s Rainbow,” then what on earth is college for,” the professor said.

According to Hendler, one of the best picks of the Huffington Post’s list is be “Against Interpretation” and “A Lover’s Discourse.” These books would be an example of “smart choices because they indicate that one of the changes one should expect when moving from high school to college English is that you will be learning to engage with criticism and theory,” the professor said.

Here’s a “Fordhamized” top ten list list of recommended reads that Professor Hendler created by his fondness for each book, explaining his choices:

Belovedby Toni Morrison. “A devastatingly powerful novel by one of our greatest writers,” Hendler said. “If I had to name one book I think every college student should read, this would be it.”

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. “Like all Melville, a knotted, complex story that is hard to work out,” the professor said. “Ultimately, the reader has to decide whether to stand with the brutal suppressors of a slave revolt or the slaves who revolt, who are at least as violent…  and Melville, makes you realize that decision is not as easy as you’d hope it would be.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. “Diaz is a magician with language; there are surprises in every sentence of this dazzling, funny, moving book,” the professor said. “I don’t read much contemporary fiction—it’s hard to find time when you’re studying the 19th century, as they wrote so many long books back then—but this is one I’ve read and taught again and again.”

“Culture and Society, 1780-1950” by Raymond Williams. “Read this and you’ll understand how history works and why literature matters,” the professor said. “Then read “Williams’s Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society,” the sequel to the earlier book, and you’ll understand more about how language works and why the meanings of words matter.”

“The Death of Artemio Cruz” by Carlos Fuentes. “Reading this book taught me that what matters in a novel is not just its story and characters, but also its form,” Hendler said. “That’s another thing that should happen when you study literature in college. You don’t just read works of literature you didn’t know about; you learn more about how literature works.”

“Epistemology of the Closet” by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. “A pioneering work of ‘queer theory,’ her argument takes off from the simple axiom that ‘people are different from each other,’ and uses that apparently obvious insight to read texts from James to Proust to Supreme Court decisions. That ‘different’ makes a radical difference; the idea that ‘we are all the same deep down’ can be extraordinarily oppressive.”

“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation,” by Louis Althusser.  “This isn’t a book, but a very long essay. It’s by a very peculiar French Marxist, who at one point, lost his mind and strangled his wife. Not a role model. But reading it as a sophomore explained to me how institutions—including universities—shape us as subjects, as people. Nothing is more important to understand as you go through college.”

“The Marrow of Tradition” by Charles Chesnutt. “Written in 1900 after white supremacist terrorists overthrew the inter-racial government of Wilmington, North Carolina, this terrifying, bitter novel shows us the history—political and personal—that we still have to grapple with as a nation.”

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. “The greatest work by the extraordinary Nigerian novelist. Reading this as an undergraduate changed my understanding of what a novel could be and what it could say.”

“The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” by Philip K. Dick. “Yes, the guy whose stories were the basis of ‘Minority Report,’ ‘Total Recall,’ ‘The Adjustment Bureau,’ ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Blade Runner.’ A pop sci-fi writer. But read one of his better books,” Hendler said, “ and you won’t forget it.”

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. “The most important and influential American book ever written. Deeply troubling, suffused with racism even as it argues passionately and effectively for the abolition of slavery,” the professor said. “One learns from it many things about the United States and its history and culture, and also that someone who deeply and passionately sympathizes with oppressed people can simultaneously reproduce the most vicious stereotypes about them. This is a lesson Americans still need to learn; good intentions don’t preclude bad results.”