A Course in Contemporary Novels

Last spring, a student came to my office, discouraged with the slated course offerings for Fall 2015. “I’ve taken all of those classes,” she explained. “And I want to read books. Novels. Lots of them.”

Naturally, I offered to design an independent study course in contemporary long fiction.

We discussed what she had read and what she wanted to read, and I set about pulling together a list of novels. I’ve taught some of them several times; others, I’ve read only once, years ago. The result? The following eleven novels, grouped into three clusters…

five novels including Kindred push never let me go

1) Coming of age as a child of color

  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Push by Sapphire

2) Navigating the world as a minority adult

  • Passing by Nella Larsen
  • Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange
  • The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

3) Surviving postmodern dystopia / science fiction

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I ended up, consciously, with ten authors of color and, mostly consciously, with eight female authors — probably my research interests in gender studies made me think of more books by women. Also, to be completely frank, because independent studies don’t yield any teaching credit or additional pay, I want to cover texts that I don’t mind re-reading, and for me, that means no Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, or Philip Roth!

Any suggestions for complementary or contrasting novels?


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