My English Professor Recommends These Books To Challenge Our View Of Society

November 2, 2020

book recommendations from my english professor

It’s fall, traditionally a “back to school” season. Although it’s been four years since I graduated, I do miss the curriculum and learning structure from my university classes. I didn’t major in English, but I did get to take some wonderful English classes at my university where I read eye-opening books that challenged my view of society. Many of these books left such a memorable impression that I remember them more than lessons from my actual college major. I couldn’t tell you the names of developing stages of a shark embryo (comparative anatomy 340), but I do know that the wealth gap has been increasing exponentially since the 1970s (English 110).

So the arts are important after all.

After completing these English courses, my perspective on our culture changed. My critical eye—of consumerism, capitalism, idolization of wealth, TV and movies, and political policies—grew sharper. All of those cultural factors that had been such a normal aspect of my life, like flipping through magazines or watching reality TV shows, didn’t look quite the same. I started wondering why some people own five houses while others are experiencing homelessness. Why corporations choose to expand profit margins instead of the life quality of the people they employ.

Critical thinking is a beautiful practice, one that can lead us to a healthier and more just society. One way we can get there is through reading books that challenge the narratives we’ve been told our entire lives.

I reached out to my old university English professor who first brought these books into my periphery. Although I haven’t taken his classes since 2013, he graciously offered book recommendations from both his previous and current course curriculums.

For those who are missing structured classes or just want some thought-provoking recommendations, these books prompt us to ask some important questions. They range from non-fiction books on class warfare to postmodern novels that artfully critique society.

Class Warfare

Wealth inequality across the globe is quite apparent.

There are more billionaires than ever before. The top 1% of people in the world hold 2x as much wealth than the bottom 6.9 billion people combined.

Conflicts between groups of different socioeconomic status and struggle within the working class bring us to the topic of class warfare. These books ask important questions about our economy, and why so many people seem to be left behind on the journey for a few to accumulate and hoard massive amounts of wealth.

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War by Joe Bageant

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank

Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class—And What We Can Do about It by Thom Hartmann

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense by David Johnston

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

When Corporations Rule the World, Second Edition by David Korten

Aftershock: The Next Economy & America’s Future by Robert Reich

The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream? by Robert Perrucci and Earl Wysong

Postmodern Literature

Postmodernity is known as the historical period between the 1960s and present time, but postmodernism itself is difficult to define as cleanly. Postmodern literature typically challenges authority and political issues. It’s experimental. Think Andy Warhol’s pop art.

I must admit, many of these books were uncomfortable to read. But honestly, I think that’s the point. While reading, I recommend researching book discussions to hear how others have interpreted these texts and form your own opinions.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The Crying of Lot 49: A Novel by Thomas Pynchon

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman by Angela Carter

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Postmodernism for Beginners by Jim Powell

Paradise by Toni Morrison

The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Bent: The Play by Martin Sherman

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

What’s on your reading list?

I just put Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk and the Shock Doctrine by Naomi Kliene (who also authored On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal) on hold at my local library. What are you excited to read?

Also by Lindsay: Can Ranked Choice Voting Heal Our Democracy?

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Lindsay Brave
Lindsay is a writer, researcher, and self-proclaimed vegan introvert. Lindsay spends her free time reading, making up dance moves (when no one’s watching), and upping her self-care routine. Connect with Lindsay on Instagram @lindsbrave or via email at lindsbrave@gmail.com.

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