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Making a start on a reading list can sometimes be difficult, especially if it is very long. Be selective about the secondary texts you read. Using a reading list is partly a process of elimination, but you must be able to justify your decisions as they affect the development of your ideas.

  • Try moving from the general to the particular with your reading, moving from texts which might offer an overview or some literary, historical or scholarly context to a literary work or author, to ones which offer very specific interpretations on particular issues. How closely related is each text to the particular question you are answering? Does it give one point of view or is it an overview of the subject? You could even start with a work of reference that may not be on your list such as the Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature or the Oxford History of English Literature.
  • Try identifying which items may be interchangeable alternatives to some extent, and select one.
  • Look for newer items which might give you a bit of scholarly context in their introductory literature review sections.

Use vacation times for in depth reading and for reading around about a topic and for consolidation. This is the time to take a look at the Faculty reading lists (Raven access only) and to make sure that you have placed your reading in context both in a literary and a historical sense.

Getting going - Strategies to try

Reading about an author:

  • Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a good place to look for details about the lives of literary figures. It gives authoritative biographies of people in any walk of life who were connected with the British Isles and British history worldwide.
  • Literature Online has more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, access to 333 full-text literature journals, and many other key criticism and reference resources. Be warned! The resource can be overwhelming (see Dr. Connell's piece on Literature Online produced for the Library's Newsletter). However, of particular note, it includes access to The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics which is recommended as a useful reference item in assisting with preparation for the Practical Criticism papers.
  • Norton Anthologies. These may be good anthologies to back up your reading in a particular period and for a specific genre, e.g. poetry.

Understanding the terms used:

  • Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Online A definitive record of the English language with definitions, examples of usage, etymology and pronunciation.
  • Oxford Reference Online searches across Oxford Reference works including: The Oxford Companion to English Literature, The Oxford Companion to American Literature, The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and many more relevant works.
  • Middle English Compendium includes an electronic version of the Middle English Dictionary. Particularly useful for Part 1: Paper 1 (1300-1550)
  • Webster's Third New International Dictionary is an authoritative American dictionary.

Putting a work or author in context:

  • Look for books that deal with your writer in a wider frame; you might select books that deal with several authors including your chosen one, or consider themes within a time period.
  • Try the English Faculty Library's Literary Timeline resource