During my many hours of English Literature classes, studying everything from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Kelly’s DNA, it became increasingly clear that the curriculum cannot always support the students’ interests, or keep whole classes engaged. Though we were taught to review the texts we analysed, and given the skills to write essays for exams, there was always a noticeable lack of participation and an obvious disapproval with the content that left students unmotivated.

When asking my peers about this, they noted that “It’s important to study texts from a variety of perspectives, time periods, and themes as students must be presented with the opportunity to form their own thoughts on such works,” but also suggested that certain texts were boring or not wholly relevant. Thus, it became apparent that though they enjoyed some of the texts they studied, they wanted to explore commentaries on issues present in society today, despite rarely giving recommendations for modern writings. For the most part, any references to recent books were half-hearted and unsure, usually opting to suggest book series that became films out of lack of awareness of modern literature.

Much debate surrounding this issue of outdated texts was focused on Shakespeare, particularly Romeo and Juliet. Many suggested it as a must-read, one respondent explaining that she enjoyed critiquing the play, especially Romeo’s dramatics and shortcomings, however, another noted that the teenage suicide and obsessive love at the forefront of the play was difficult to ignore, and a questionable choice for young, naïve minds. They added, “I think most schools get the option to study a range of important and interesting texts, but the final choice usually comes down to the teachers, who either make good choices or really very tragic ones.”

Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s plays were highly recommended, including Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and Twelfth Night. One student remarked that, “Much Ado About Nothing successfully highlights a lot of Shakespeare’s strengths, as well as showing how different productions can add a lot to the original script. It also allows students to think critically in regard to Claudio and Hero. If a teacher can find a production going on locally to take students to that’s always a huge bonus.”

Another writer students frequently suggested was Orwell. Both Animal Farm and 1984 were proposed for their political relevance and dystopian settings. Other writers included Goethe, whose works include Faust, war poetry including Wilfred Owen, and Victorian Literature like the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Only one person that I spoke to actually suggested recently published novels, including ones that were decidedly influential such as Twilight. Furthermore, she mentioned fanfiction as a significant form of writing. Though it is often looked down upon, it is an interesting show of the effects of writing on its readers, can enrich an already brilliant novel, and is often relevant to newly published books.