English Majoring Forever

As a lot of you know, I majored in English in college.

I feel like it has served me well in ministry and I’m glad that my daughter Taylor has is doing a double major in History and English at hVanderbilt while my son Riley had an English concentration at UNC-Chapel Hill.

One reason I like being an English major is that it never really stops. I am almost always reading one novel or another. Maybe not quite on the order of James Joyce’s Ulysses like I read in college (or tried to read), but some pretty good ones nonetheless. Here are some of the most influential novels of my post-college years as a perpetual English major:

  • A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe. Epic, hilarious, sad, Southern, and brilliantly written.
  • Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. How did I not read this earlier?
  • Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. Think Flannery O’Connor without all the weird stuff.
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Picking my favorite Wally Lamb book is like picking your favorite kind of pie: whichever one you are eating. He has the gift of turning ordinary and extraordinary events into occasions for my tear ducts to go into overdrive.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. See above.
  • Straight Man by Richard Russo. Having grown up in a professor’s house, I love books in which the protagonist is a professor. Russo seems to write effortlessly . . . . which lets you know he works really hard at his craft.
  • State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett. This one had me from the first sentence. Patchett’s effortless prose and wry observations never fail to satisfy. Commonwealth and Bel Canto are winners as well.
  • Financial Lives Of The Poets by Jess Walter. Remember 2009? The Great Recession? Well, it produced a great novel. Walter’s entire oeuvre (now THERE’S an English major word!) combine hilarity, brutality, and self-loathing in a way few others can master.

This list is by no means comprehensive but those are the books that dominate my memory today. Perhaps I’ll add new ones shortly — I’ve got three novels waiting for my next out of town trip.

That way, the best parts of college never end . . .