The Literal List

I mentioned a few months back that I was planning to work my way through the reading list for the comprehensive exam administered to Masters of Arts in English students (my list comes from “Pittsburg State University” – which I thought was quite the spelling error until I discovered there IS a Pittsburg, Kansas).

I’m still doing a lot of off-list reading and going at it at completely my own pace. So here are a few stats:

Books completed on the list (not including books I’d already read before starting this project): 11

Books completed on the list (including books I’d read before): 31

(Actual books on the list: unknown. It depends on which choices you make within each category, so I’ll have to count the final number when I’ve finished! But it should be somewhere around 130.)

Favorite “new book” on the list: Beowulf

Favorite “read-it-before” book on the list: Jane Eyre

Most recently completed: Aurora Leigh (Comment: the author wants to prove that epic poetry is still a relevant writing form for today. While I understand why she wants to express herself in poetry – it allows for more emotion than prose – she goes on too many tangents for it to really work well in this book.)


I’m currently reading Morte D’Arthur …. as I understand it, it’s essentially the oldest English translation text of the legends of Arthur. It took me a while to get into it, mostly because I’ve been grappling with the following:

  1. There’s absolutely no “downtime” for the first several chapters – it’s boom, boom, boom. As in – Arthur gets the sword. The other kings wage war on him. He wages war on a different king to gain allies. He wages war on the kings who are against him. Oh, look, a new knight joins the Round Table who happened to kill that knight’s father. Guess what happens next? There isn’t even enough downtime for detailed descriptions in a lot of the stories. It’s more suited to a TV mini-series than to a book you read in one sitting. I imagine a storyteller would flesh out the stories a bit more …. or at least break them into installments.
  2. I don’t quite understand why God punishes Arthur for begetting a child with his sister (who he doesn’t know he’s related to), but has absolutely no problem with Arthur sleeping with plenty of married women before that. I’m missing something big in Christian theology here.
  3. Likewise, I’m taken aback by how casually Christianity and sorcery go hand-in-hand in this book. No one seems to have issues with Merlin making religious proclamations. I guess it’s an era thing.

I think #s 1 and 2 really boil down to … this is a guy’s book, not the romance I was expecting. I mean, if I had a dollar for every story that involves a man wanting to have sex with a woman – even Merlin gets obsessed with a damsel and won’t leave her alone until she tricks him under an enchanted rock (by the way, women definitely seem to be smarter than men in this book so far). The mindset of the characters revolves around honor, and honor often seems to mean “wage war, not peace.” The author also feels no obligation to historical authenticity – as evidenced by Arthur’s supposed coronation as ruler of the Roman Empire (apparently some versions actually claim some event called him home before the coronation to get around the little issue of the historical record, but my version has no such scruples).

Even though there have been books I had to force myself through, I’m really enjoying this project. I’m trying to read at least one book from the list each month, and I often read more. I’m not going in any particular order – periodically I just go crazy on the library’s website requesting whichever books catch my eye.

I’ll try to post another update on my progress with the list when I’m further down the line!


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