On behalf of everyone here at UChicago Admissions, we hope that you and your family are doing well and staying healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things a bit chaotic in the world right now and we want to be here to support you in any way we can.
To that end, we thought it would be nice to start posting a weekly blog with some interesting material to help provide a distraction and something to read while you’re social distancing at home. This weekly post will offer encouragement, positive insights into the UChicago community, and some general college admissions tips.
That brings us to me, the person who will be writing these posts. My name is Simone, and I’m an admissions counselor here at UChicago. I’m also an alum of the College who majored in English and Spanish while I was in undergrad. This means that I read a lot of books while I was a student, in both English and Spanish. A LOT of books.
With this in mind, I thought: what better way to kick off our inaugural post than with a reading list? Today, I’ll be walking you through some of my favorite reads from my time here at UChicago. I know that many of you can’t go outside to buy books, so I’ll try to focus on books that are available electronically, especially texts that are readily available for free online. Also, please keep in mind that it’s been a few years since I’ve read some of these books, so please don’t come for me if a detail is off here or there.
With all that out of the way, let’s get started! Find a comfy chair and a blanket, make yourself a cup of hot cocoa, and get ready to do some reading!
- The Iliad by Homer. This epic poem was one of the first books I read during my UChicago career as part of the Humanities Core class “Human Being and Citizen,” which was taught by Randall Bush. It tells the story of the 10-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans, which features battles—both verbal and physical—between humans, demigods, and the gods themselves. I was very into Greek mythology when I was younger (Percy Jackson for life!) and I really loved reading The Odyssey in high school. I’d always wanted to read The Iliad but had never gotten around to it before this class. It was great to be able to discuss the text with a bunch of other students who were as excited to be learning as I was; I very much enjoyed our debates about what the real cause of the Trojan War was—Aphrodite, Helen, or Agamemnon’s lust for power—and what Achilles’ participation in the war implies about what we owe to other citizens of our country. You can find The Iliad here.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. You had to have known that something by Shakespeare would make it onto this list. During Autumn Quarter of my third year, I took a class called “Shakespeare: History/Comedies,” which was taught by Ellen MacKay. While Shakespeare does have some great historical plays, I enjoy his comedies above all else. To put it bluntly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a hot mess of a play and it is delightful. It’s the story of a group of humans who, because of the mischief of a devious group of fairies, all end up falling in love with the wrong person. Because it’s a comedy, everything works out alright in the end, but not before someone’s head is transformed into that of a donkey (just a normal Friday night, right?). You can read the play here.
- The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha or El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. I will be honest and admit that I have not read the entirety of Don Quixote—it is a long book! However, I did read a pretty good chunk of it during Winter Quarter of my third year as part of the Spanish class “Cervantes en las Américas” (“Cervantes in the Americas”), which was taught by Medardo Rosario. Each week, we would read a section of Don Quixote and pair it with a related story or essay by a writer from Latin America. It was a really great way to see how old texts, even those written 400 years ago, can have an influence on modern literature. To get back to the book, Don Quixote’s eponymous character, an older man, imagines himself as a great knight and travels around Spain trying to prove his chivalry—you’re probably familiar with the story of him trying to fight some windmills that he mistakes for giants (this starts in Chapter 8 if you want to skip directly to it). The story is hilarious, and many chapters are episodic, so it is the type of book you can jump around in and put down and come back to later. You can find it in English here and in Spanish here.
- Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot. This is another long read. So long, in fact, that I spent the entirety of Spring Quarter of my first year focusing on this one book in “Introduction to Fiction: Middlemarch,” which was taught by Lawrence Rothfield. Middlemarch was written in the 19th century by Mary Ann Evans (pen name: George Eliot) and follows the lives of the residents of a small English town. There are several different subplots at play, with more than one having to do with romantic relationships (if you’re a Jane Austen fan, you’ll probably enjoy this book). Reading Middlemarch is also a really good way to learn a little bit more about the history of 19th century England—if you’re the sort of nerd who is interested in learning about things like the Reform Act of 1832. You can find the text online here.
- Blood Wedding or Bodas de sangre by Federico García Lorca. I read this play during Autumn Quarter of my third year in “Literatura hispánica: textos españoles contemporáneos” (“Hispanic Literature: Contemporary Spanish Texts”), which was taught by Miguel Martínez. This is a play of forbidden love, which—although it was written by a Spanish playwright—also incorporates elements of tragic Greek plays. Because it’s a tragic play, it does end sadly (shocking, I know!), so that may be something to keep in mind when reading it. However, it is a very beautifully written and well-crafted play. It also isn’t too long of a read, so it’s definitely something you could take on if you’re looking for something a little more manageable than some of the other entries on this list. You can find it in English here and in Spanish here.
- Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. This is cheating a little bit because I didn’t actually read this in college (gasp!), although I did read it in high school. My friend, Jack, another alum, read this book in “The Gothic Novel,” taught by Heather Keenleyside. I think we’re all familiar with the story of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Monster (they’re two different people!) but this is a classic tale that never gets old. It’s even more impressive when you realize that Mary Shelley was still a teenager when she wrote it! You can find Frankenstein here.
You might have noticed that because these books are the type that you can find for free online, many of them are older books of a more classic nature. I know these books might not be everyone’s jam, and that’s totally okay! As an alternative, and in honor of our reading extravaganza today, I’d like to also recommend Matilda by Roald Dahl (no, I didn’t read it for a class at UChicago, but it’s important to seek out reading on your own, too). It’s a delightful story of a young girl whose love of reading leads to her developing fantastical powers.
Unfortunately, Matilda isn’t as readily available online as my other picks, but you can buy it as an eBook on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. Many public library systems have eBook options as well, so you may also be able to find Matilda that way (the Chicago Public Library has it as an eBook here). It was also made into a pretty awesome movie, which you can rent here or watch here by linking to your TV provider.
Please join me next week for our second edition of this blog post, where I’ll be providing you with some tips for working at home. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands. Most importantly, be there for each other (even if it’s virtually)—we’re all in this together!
See you next week!