Rockyd123
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Hello,

I am about to enter Year 12 and have decided that I want to pursue an English degree, ideally at Oxford.

Over the year, I would like to expand my reading in order to prepare for the rigorous application process and need some advice on which books to read. Some say that you should read the canon - Orwell / Gatsby / the Brontes etc; others say that it is better to read across the centuries and try more niche novels. I could really use some advice on which option is the best - thanks in advance
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Widsith
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(Original post by Rockyd123)
Hello,

I am about to enter Year 12 and have decided that I want to pursue an English degree, ideally at Oxford.

Over the year, I would like to expand my reading in order to prepare for the rigorous application process and need some advice on which books to read. Some say that you should read the canon - Orwell / Gatsby / the Brontes etc; others say that it is better to read across the centuries and try more niche novels. I could really use some advice on which option is the best - thanks in advance
Why not do a bit of both? At this stage, you might be best served by getting a good overview of the various kinds of texts you can study over the course of an English degree – and it might help you decide on university courses to apply to as well. (It's good to be aware that not all English courses are the same, and that prescribed periods and module choices can vary widely. English at Oxford, for one, requires you to study all literary periods from Old English to the 20th century – it will be much easier if you actually enjoy the majority of these texts.)

Remember that Oxford will not penalise you for not knowing specific texts.(In fact, I still haven't read Wuthering Heights, and might never get round to it...) The application process, and particularly the interview, is much more about finding people who are good to teach rather than people who have already been taught everything. What counts is your ability to analyse and make connections – above all, you need to train your close reading and be able to apply it to a range of different texts individually and comparatively.

In practical terms, I would then advise you to ideally read a few representative texts from across all time periods (or at least the time periods as defined by Oxford) to get a feel for different literary modes and currents. Try out some Middle English (or even some Old English in facing-page translations, if you feel like it) and then just work your way up the centuries (or start with the 21st century and work your way down, as you prefer). There are also a range of podcasts available that will provide you with approachable introductions to literary periods. At the same time, however, it's also an advantage to have one area of literature you particularly like (be it epic poetry or the Theatre of the Absurd) and prioritise in your reading. If you can discuss it intelligently at interviews, this will make a strong case for your passion for literature.

Finally, remember not to stress about it. University applications are still some time away, and what's most important is that you enjoy your reading – after all, you still want to enjoy your degree later.
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Rockyd123
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(Original post by Widsith)
Why not do a bit of both? At this stage, you might be best served by getting a good overview of the various kinds of texts you can study over the course of an English degree – and it might help you decide on university courses to apply to as well. (It's good to be aware that not all English courses are the same, and that prescribed periods and module choices can vary widely. English at Oxford, for one, requires you to study all literary periods from Old English to the 20th century – it will be much easier if you actually enjoy the majority of these texts.)

Remember that Oxford will not penalise you for not knowing specific texts.(In fact, I still haven't read Wuthering Heights, and might never get round to it...) The application process, and particularly the interview, is much more about finding people who are good to teach rather than people who have already been taught everything. What counts is your ability to analyse and make connections – above all, you need to train your close reading and be able to apply it to a range of different texts individually and comparatively.

In practical terms, I would then advise you to ideally read a few representative texts from across all time periods (or at least the time periods as defined by Oxford) to get a feel for different literary modes and currents. Try out some Middle English (or even some Old English in facing-page translations, if you feel like it) and then just work your way up the centuries (or start with the 21st century and work your way down, as you prefer). There are also a range of podcasts available that will provide you with approachable introductions to literary periods. At the same time, however, it's also an advantage to have one area of literature you particularly like (be it epic poetry or the Theatre of the Absurd) and prioritise in your reading. If you can discuss it intelligently at interviews, this will make a strong case for your passion for literature.

Finally, remember not to stress about it. University applications are still some time away, and what's most important is that you enjoy your reading – after all, you still want to enjoy your degree later.
Thank you so much! Great advice. Would Romanticism serve as a valid area of literature to be interested in? Romantic poetry has always been my favourite part of literature but I'm worried that it might not be 'niche' enough / too many applicants would also share this interest. I feel like they would be more impressed if my passion was focused on Medieval literature or something of the like.

Thanks again
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Widsith
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(Original post by Rockyd123)
Thank you so much! Great advice. Would Romanticism serve as a valid area of literature to be interested in? Romantic poetry has always been my favourite part of literature but I'm worried that it might not be 'niche' enough / too many applicants would also share this interest. I feel like they would be more impressed if my passion was focused on Medieval literature or something of the like.

Thanks again
I think it's quite hard to artificially calibrate your personal preferences to suit admissions criteria, and more importantly, it's also mostly pointless. Just because you don't come in gushing about Beowulf (as I did) doesn't mean you won't make an interesting applicant – the fact itself that you have a particular area of interest and some specialised knowledge should serve that purpose rather nicely. After all, this isn't a postgraduate degree, and you're not expected to produce unique research proposals.

What you can do to stand out a bit more, of course, is to also read some of the less well-known Romantics (i.e. anyone but the Big Six: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Shelley, and Byron). This notably includes a great many female poets, like Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Felicia Hemans, or Letitia Elizabeth Landon, but also the long-neglected John Clare and Leigh Hunt. You may also want to try breaking out into Romantic essays (Barbauld again, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb) or other forms. If you happen to have lots of time on your hands, have a look at some secondary literature: M. H. Abrams' The Mirror and the Lamp (1953) is a classic, if quite dense and a tad dated by now; for an easier-to-read counterpoint, see Jerome J. McGann's The Romantic Ideology (1983).

That said, keep in mind that this is your area of interest. This means that your reading should primarily follow your interests – it's those that make you interesting.
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meredith2017
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romantics are a fab option, and basically carried my entire application! try to get really in depth though, reading widely, though having a specific focus maybe
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