Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Reading List - A Level Year 1 Wrap Up

Every year, prior to Autumn term's commencement, a reading list arrives in my inbox. As an English Literature student at A Level and a aspiring one at degree-level, this is a thrilling moment. It's the moment in which the texts which you're going to decipher, fracture, deconstruct and analyse with curious heart are finally revealed to you after months of anticipation. Suddenly I'm in a blur of finding editions of the texts with extra analysis, textbooks, and the best Sparknotes possible. Now, having completed my first year of A Levels, and going to my second in a matter of days, this feels like the appropriate time to recap and note my thoughts on the texts I studied in Year 12. 

Stories of Ourselves - Selected Stories, as endorsed by Cambridge International Examinations
I'll probably be forever a little angry that we didn't study a novel at AS Level, but the compilation of stories was mediocre enough that I could be satisfied for the mean time. Of course, there were some horrific stories, but there were also some fantastic pieces that will resonate with me for a very long time. Examples of this are in Journey by Shirley Geok Lin Lim and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman [both of which I'd highly recommend you go and read.] This anthology also got me to read a Charles Dickens, which took me by surprise in how much I enjoyed it, and a John Wyndham too. Don't actively go reading this unless you've been set it for your course, but these books remind me of how fantastic anthologies are in giving the reader tasters of an author's wider pallate. 3/5
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
Upon full immersion in Shakespeare's world stage play, I really enjoyed its contents. Antony and Cleopatra are both such deep, and astonishingly flawed characters, and by the end, I had a lot of respect for some (Octavia and Enobarbus) and not so much for others. Antony and Cleopatra is script that I can pour my heart out over - especially when it comes to theme and character analysis. 

I'd only recommend this if you have the time and patience to sit down and study every aspect. It's not as simple to understand as Twelfth Night or Romeo and Juliet, the complexity will just make you feel lost unless you're taking the time to fully grasp what's happening. There are so many battles, it becomes irritating, but other than that, this was a fascinating take on West vs East, duty vs desire, and how far people will go in the name of love. 4/5
Selected Poems by Wilfred Owen
I'm not the biggest poetry lover. I feel like I have to connect to the poet and just get what they are saying [Ariel by Sylvia Plath lacked this connection, hence why I hated it so much]. Owen is one of those poets. 

Owen's subject was the Pity of War, and I think his poetry serves to do this theme justice perfectly. His poetry pinpoints the catastrophic impact of war in horrific detail - as seen in Dulce Et Decorum Est. Meanwhile pieces like Shadwell Stair and Strange Meeting are just haunting, reminding readers a century on of the reality of life in a revolutionary, both in urban environments and on the battlefield. I feel like I took something away from each of these, and for that I'm grateful. Reading this collection reminded me of when I went to Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium and Northern France a couple of years ago, and the experience of seeing the places in which these battles were fought. Having that experience only made me appreciate these poems more and inspired a wanderlust and curiosity to revisit the country in which World War One was partially fought. 3/5

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Overall a pretty good play, filled with great morals about sticking by your values and principles even when it would be easier to give in. Tudor England just isn't of great interest to me though - nor is the divide between Catholicism, the Church of England, and Henry VIII's decision to bend the laws when he couldn't get around them. As an Atheist, perhaps I found this harder to relate to than someone who does abide by a religion; unlike More, I don't have my morals rooted in higher powers, so maybe don't quite empathise as much as a religious person may do so. 1/5

As someone who is applying to study English Literature at University, this is a series that I hope to continue over the next few years, with my reading list for Year 13 going live here at Lost in a Library in the coming weeks. Whilst I write with a vilified voice regarding these four books, they gave me new outlooks, new ideas, new beliefs. As a bonus, these are the books that I achieved an A at AS Level with, something which makes me very grateful to Bolt, Owen, and Shakespeare for their works and what they have aided me in reaching.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this, Holly! Especially since I'll be starting Year 12 next week and English Lit is one of my subjects. I can't wait to explore some new texts. I'm really intrigued by your review of Anthony and Cleopatra - it isn't the Shakespeare play my school has chosen to study (I think we're doing Othello) but I'd love to read it anyway! Good luck for Year 13 and congratulations on your A in your AS exams!! ❤

    1. Ooh good luck! It's such a fascinating and fun subject to study at A Level, you'll really enjoy English Literature. Best of luck with Othello too - that's our chosen Shakespeare for Year 13!
      Thanks again Rebekah!


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