Fine literature: A tasting menu

| Senior Scene Editor

When you have as much reading to do as the average Washington University student, it’s easy to completely let pleasure reading fall by the wayside. But part of college is expanding your mind and exposing yourself to a wide variety of classics. However, there isn’t exactly time to crank out “War and Peace” in your spare time.

This is why I try to read as many novellas and short stories as possible. It’s the ideal way to experience the styles of many great authors without drowning in their great works. Plus, if you like what you see in a shorter work, there’s nothing stopping you from committing to a longer haul. And just think of how sophisticated you’ll sound when you can reference Kafka at the drop of a hat.

BooksBecca Christman and Maddie Wilson

“The Stranger” by Albert Camus

A strong example of the French existentialist movement, this quick read is anything but shallow. It’s not exactly uplifting, but it is the pinnacle of absurd philosophy for any Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology students out there.

“A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway

Though a bit longer than my other selections, you can read this novel in just a couple of days. The language is simpler than in many of Hemingway’s novels, and the subject matter is deeply absorbing. You will be unable to put it down.

“Paris France” by Gertrude Stein

Stein’s style in this work is very casual, verging on stream-of-consciousness. The effect is to make it the picture of simplicity. Nevertheless, the reader is introduced to a variety of the 20th century’s great literary figures. I’ve found that reading authors from the “Lost Generation” is a never-ending buffet. You will find references that make you unable to resist reading another work.

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

Widely regarded as one of the most significant writers of the 20th century, Kafka offers his readers a masterwork with a low time commitment. “The Metamorphosis” is his consummate example of absurdist philosophy.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote

While best known for “In Cold Blood,” one of the finest examples of creative nonfiction, Capote also wrote a wide collection of fiction. Most people are familiar with the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but the short story that inspired the motion picture is actually much more nuanced and complex.

“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin

One of the great Southern writers, Kate Chopin is considered a major influence on 20th-century American literature. Her most famous work, “The Awakening,” is one of the earliest examples of fine feminist literature.

“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

If you’re not sure if you want to commit to the mammoth “Absalom, Absalom!,” try reading one of Faulkner’s many excellent short stories. “Barn Burning” is widely regarded as one of his best, but the options are many. You will be able to engage with his rich and complex prose while beginning to meet the many characters that weave amongst his various narratives.

Read all of these and you will sound instantly smarter. Slip a casual reference into a job interview and you’ll have the interviewer thinking you live in the library. It’ll be our little secret.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.