>So I’m in grading jail, and what I’m grading at the moment are essays on the state of scholarship in the last 15 years on selected texts from our MA exam. And while I can assess the effectiveness of these essays pretty well without myself knowing the criticism of, say, Louise Erdrich’s Tracks (it’s all about the student convincing me s/he knows it), I realized that there are a number of texts on our MA exam that I either haven’t read at all, or have only read excerpts of, or that I haven’t read since I was an undergraduate. And yet, when it’s my turn to write an exam, I’m supposed to write questions with these texts in mind. Hm. Maybe I should read them! Ya think?
So, I’m going to make a resolution — not exactly a New Year’s resolution — to have read all the works on the MA exam list by the time the current 1st year class is graduated in 2008. Below is our rather odd list (seriously, isn’t it bizarre?!), dominated by the 19th century and doing poor service to everything from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. (We’re currently in discussions about that, but I’ve got a very stubborn colleague on the grad committee who thinks the list should be *shorter* and should just be a kind of exercise in “practical criticism” to show they can read a few things deeply. In that case, why not just give them random passages on the exam — like the actual Practical Criticism Tripos exam at Cambridge — and forget the list? Honestly, I have no idea what this list is suppose to be or do.)
Anyway, I’ve crossed off the texts I’ve read recently and know well. What’s left is what I think I need to read or reread (so this isn’t exactly a game of humiliation — I have read Paradise Lost, for instance, but not since I was an undergrad).
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
Shakespeare, King Lear
John Donne, Poems
Milton, Paradise Lost
Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Brontë, Jane Eyre
Dickens, Great Expectations
Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself
James, Portrait of a Lady
Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
Ellison, Invisible Man
O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
And for discussion purposes: what do you think of this list? How would you change it if you could and why?