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The Literary Canon: Revised

February 25, 2019

A literary canon refers to a body of books, narratives, and various texts that are considered within academia to be the most important or influential. If you look up which books comprise the English canon, you find titles like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, and Frankenstein. These books are all wonderful in their own right, but they highlight how the canon is limited in scope.

English professor Stephen Behrendt says that many of the educators who contributed to early canonization efforts were teachers and clergymen. In the earliest years, most educators were religious, and ultimately brought in a moral focus or moral compass in terms of which works were approved.

As an English major and self-proclaimed literary buff, the following titles are a few that I think should be officially incorporated into the English literary canon.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

“You are afraid of it because it is stronger than you; you hate it because you are afraid of it; you love it because you cannot subdue it to your will. Only the unsubduable can be loved.” 

For Fans of Orwell, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a must-read. The dystopian novel that inspired both Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, We captures the anxiety of the time from which it emerged. 

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

“Who can ever know what path to walk on when all of them are either crooked or broken? One just has to walk.”

Radiance of Tomorrow is a haunting depiction of a village in ruins following a brutal civil war. Two friends, Benjamin and Bockarie, attempt to rebuild the community as more villagers return, but they are met with a scarcity of food, thievery, rape, retaliation, and murder. Benjamin and Bockerie reckon with the uncertainty of their past and future as they work together following the depravity of war.

Sula by Toni Morrison

“It was not death or dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both.” 

Toni Morrison is a modern literary icon. She has created some of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of literature that I have encountered. Every one of her novels is layered with complex and nuanced imagery, social commentary, and raw emotion.