Six (of many) Great Things About Majoring in English

 In honor of the first week of classes at Notre Dame, a tribute to my beloved area of study:


  1. Everyone* in class wants to be there. English majors have often defied the wishes of their parents, chosen happiness over financial gain, and accepted a murky professional future over a straightforward one in order to be in that classroom. The result? People who all (a) read the book, (b) have a lot to say about the book, and (c) come together to create a stimulating discussion.

                               *Except for that person who ended up in Jane Austen class through some scheduling freak-accident.  He will play Words With Friends on his iPad all semester long.

Stock photo of random classroom that essentially encapsulates the English class vibe
Stock photo of random classroom that more or less encapsulates the English class vibe

2. Student camaraderie. “You didn’t start the paper?” “Me either.” “Want to get coffee and edit each others’?” “Um, yes please.”

English majors are in it together. There is no curve, and thus no reason to be competitive or delight in classmates’ failure. We unite in our love of books and reading, but also in our procrastination problems and hate for our professor’s pseudo-British accent and hopelessly ambiguous writing prompts.

If I calculated how much money I spent at Starbs that could have been spent on new books... but I don't have to do math anymore so whatever
Perhaps if I were a math major I would be able to calculate ways to buy less coffee and then save that money for more books…
  1. Cheap books. The most expensive thing an English major will ever have to buy is a $50 used Norton Anthology. Most of the time one has to acquire about five, ten-dollar books and the prof will email you the rest in PDF docs (that is, if this particular literary great happens to be one of the few who understands computers. The majority will come to class bearing stacks of warm print-outs.)

    Lot of this action
    Lot of this action in my backpack
  1. Job applications are a breeze. Writing cover letters is second nature, and English majors come across extremely well on paper. Now, if only you can be equally charming during the interview….
  1. Homework = reading novels and poems. And writing about them. If you are passionate about reading and writing, this can hardly be classified as work. I would be reading and writing anyway, and though I’d prefer there were no due dates or grades (or that I were perusing Harry Potter for the tenth time instead of struggling through Beowulf in Old English), nothing feels better than acing a paper I worked hard on (ahem – slaved over, sacrificing sleep, coffee money, party time…).

    Ahh Beowulf. Where it all began. (Theoretically, I should be able to "read" this by the end of the semester.)
    Beowulf, i.e. where written English began. And now we’re adding words like “amazeballs” and “mansplain” to the OED.
  1. Subjective grading. In contrast to a Calculus test, for example, when an A indicates that you correctly recreated another person’s discovery, an A on an English paper signifies your individual brilliance (at least this is what I tell myself). It distinguishes thoughts that are spot-on, well-organized, and creative enough to impress someone with a PhD in English. And in cases of sub-par papers (and cool professors), there is typically some opportunity to rewrite it or argue for a better grade.
    Such praise leaves me feeling as awesome as if I had been asked out by Matt Duchene (well, almost)
    Nothing quite like a few lines of barely-legible professor praise


    In conclusion, a word from P.G. Wodehouse:

    “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.”

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Publisher: Scribner (April 8, 2014) ISBN: 978-1476753614
Publisher: Scribner              April 8, 2014                         ISBN: 978-1476753614



“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”

– Marina Keegan (1989-2012)

The Opposite of Loneliness is a 200 page collection of short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by Marina Keegan, a brilliant twenty-two-year-old writer who died tragically in a car accident five days after graduating from Yale. Though Marina’s heartbreaking death undeniably casts a shadow over the book, her humor, creativity, and insightfulness infuse her stories with stimulating energy. Her most memorable tales include “Cold Pastoral,” in which a young woman in college must navigate the tragic death of a “not-quite-boyfriend;” a short and poignant poem that begins: “So what I’m trying to say is you should text me back,” and “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” an essay in which Marina discusses the shocking statistic that 25% of Yale graduates dutifully march on to work for consulting firms after graduation.

The consulting firm machine
I too fear the consulting firm machine

Marina’s creative plots invite readers to reflect on the human condition within the context of relationships, including romantic, parent/child, human/technology, and even car/driver. She is readable, she is wise, she is witty, she is someone with whom I want to drink coffee and discuss politics. Remarkably, she combines a spirit of youthful progressivism with the wisdom of a seasoned college professor.

As a college student and an English literature major, I spend a lot of time reading things from distant eras filled with unfamiliar landscapes, outfits, speech patterns, and histories. This forces me to spend an unfortunate amount of time whipping out my iPhone to Wikipedia words, peoples and places, attempting to connect the dots and make the story more accessible. (Then I inevitably end up texting my roommate or ordering books on Amazon, and two hours later I realize that I’ll have to stay up until 4am if I want to finish Beowulf.) One of my favorite things about The Opposite of Loneliness was that it rendered google unnecessary. Those born in the late eighties and nineties will find it effortless to engage with the topics, phrases, and references Marina utilizes. She mentions “The Dark Knight,” group iMessages, and the confusingly noncommittal dating culture in college, to name a few.

This book is perfect for:

  • College students, late teens and twenty-somethings
  • Progressives, liberals, radicals
  • Thinkers, readers, careful observers of people
  • Minds that thrive on navigating gray areas, doubting, and questioning
Marina drove around the Northeast with some version of this sticker on her 1990 Toyota Camry
Marina drove around the Northeast with some version of this sticker on her 1990 Toyota Camry

The way I feel about Marina Keegan the author, her plots, and her beautiful prose is perfectly captured in the following quote from the beginning of her book:

“And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”