Required-reading lists have been under-fire recently with the Common Core diminishing classroom emphasis on literature without real-world relevancy. Fiction with no clear connection to current events ― so, say, Albert Camus’s The Stranger or even The Great Gatsby ― are eschewed in favor of more topical titles.
On the one hand, this presents a curriculum quandary; those books inspired much of today’s writing, and should arguably be read as a foundation for further literary exploration.
On the other hand, deviating from the canon makes room for writers whose work, despite being both lyrical and influential, is typically ignored. Earlier this year, Yale students protested the white male canon, which loomed large over syllabi, writing that, “a year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.”
We tend to agree. Which is why we put together an alternative back-to-school reading list ― one that feminist readers can get behind. We’re not suggesting that you ditch Shakespeare, only that you pick up a few books by women and people of color, too.
The Greatest of Marlys by Lynda Barry
If you have yet to discover cartoonist Lynda Barry’s vibrant and emotional comics, let this be your introduction. Marlys is a smart preteen outcast — a character who’s likely to churn up your own mixed feelings about childhood and adolescence that seem to burn brighter each fall. Barry’s vivid depictions of Marlys’ life, and the life of those closest to her, are spot on. You’ll cheer for Marlys and empathize with her embarrassments, just like the supportive adult figure you wished you had when you were her age. ― Jill Capewell