A Glance at What Canadian English Students Are Reading this Fall

Now that I’m an adult, September just seems to be another month in the calendar year. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I get a bit nostalgic when I see the back to school commercials advertising duo tangs, pencils and 25 cent loose leaf. I also always loved that feeling of starting over in the middle of the year, a chance to start new courses, meet new professors and make new friends. While I was taking this walk down memory lane, I started thinking of another huge aspect of the school experience… choosing the courses I wasted to study.

Acadia University

Acadia University

I was an English major of Acadia University ’06 (you do the math) and there were always lots of interesting English courses that peeked my interest, especially anything related to the idea of Canadian literature, medieval literature and the coveted course that everyone wanted to study, analyzing the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if there were any new courses added to the curriculum since I graduated, which of course led me down a rabbit hole of peeking at different English courses offered and the books on the curriculum from a variety of Canadian Universities. I thought it might be fun to share my discoveries with all of you, so without further ado, here’s a look at some of the fun courses students are studying in their affiliated English Departments.

ACADIA UNIVERSITY (Wolfville, Nova Scotia)

Of course, I’m a little biased about Acadia, because it’s where I received my degree, but I always felt that they had really great English course selections, they also had amazing professors that always encourage critical thinking. Many of the course selections seemed relatively the same, but I was thrilled to see that current books had been added to the curriculum, including Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.

All the course descriptions can found here.

SAINT MARY’S UNIVERSITY (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

SMU has some really intriguing English courses, including, Narrative in Fiction and Film, The Bible and English Literature and my favourite Fictions of Finance. Here’s the course description for Fictions of Finance,

This course examines the representation of money and finance in a range of genres – including fiction, drama, poetry, and film – and from a range of literary periods.  Authors to be considered include William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Theodore Dreiser, George Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Miller, and Martin Amis.  Topics to be addressed include narratives of financial success and failure, gambling and risk, the expansion of capitalism and the stock market, lotteries and auctions, fraud and financial crime, and hoarding and expenditure.

All the course descriptions can found here.


UofT has some pretty amazing courses and the course descriptions are thorough and descriptive. I think out of all of their choices, the ones that piqued my interest most were,

  • Space and the Education of Desire: Postcolonialism and Diaspora
  • Life, Death, and American Fiction
  • Actuality, Documentary, Reality

All the course descriptions can found here.

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY (Kingston, Ontario) 422100321

Of all the University websites I perused, Queen’s was the easiest to navigate. Their course selections are also plentiful, with many great topics that will pique your interest. Lately short stories have been making a huge comeback so it was exciting to see that they had a course that studys the “contemporary American short story”. The authors students will be examining  will be,

J. D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Robert Coover, Alice Walker, Donald Barthelme, James Baldwin, Tim O’Brien, David Foster Wallace, A. M. Homes, George Saunders, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Philip K. Dick, John Barth, Cynthia Ozik, Sherman Alexie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lydia Davis.

All the course descriptions can found here.


As noted on their site,

The University of Albert Department of English and Film Studies was recently ranked 22nd in English Language & Literature by the QS World University Rankings – the highest ranking department at the University in this survey.

And with good reason, they have lots of fun and innovative courses that would appeal to readers. My favourite would have to “Reading Popular Culture”,

This course introduces students to post-secondary studies in English through the close reading of popular culture texts, including zines, magazines, film, television, advertising, the internet, and non-canonical fiction and non-fiction. It will address the aesthetics, concepts, theories, and debates that inform the production and consumption of popular culture, and analyze the role of pop culture in shaping beliefs, identities, and social practices. Materials, themes, topics, and genres will vary among instructors.

All the course descriptions can found here.


Here’s another University that has a very innovative approach to reading and understanding literature. On their departments website, they have a faculty bookshelf, which links of to each book shown in this picture.

Of all the great courses they have to offer (and they have many), my favourite has to be,

Assorted Literary Genres Today (and Youth Across Them)

In the spirit of exploration, this section will examine youth (its hallmarks, its dilemmas, its significance) across a range of literary genres, in particular memoir, Bildungsroman, speculative fiction, social novel, historical fiction, and/or comedy. In addition to exposing students to authors writing within (or in reaction to) genre conventions, the readings will enable students to understand the interplay between genre and representation.

Readings include the following,

  • Speculative Fiction: Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Bildungsroman: Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
  • Historical Fiction: George and Rue by George Elliott Clarke
  • Social Novel: The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Don Hannah
  • At the moment, the fifth genre is undecided. It will be either memoir (Fun Home by Alison Bechdel) or comedy (Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood)

All the course descriptions can found here.

As you can see, I only looked at a handful of Canadian Universities, but it was exciting to see how out of the box the arts department has come in just eight years (since I graduated). Of course, there are still lots of OG’s (original gangsters) present, Shakespeare, Approaches to Literature, Literary Analysis and Postcolonial Lit. But for the most part, there seem to lots of new and exciting ways in which to study English.

So if you’re an English student who’s stumbled on this post, go sharpen your pencils and buckle up for a great year of expanding your mind. If you’re like me and September is now just the month that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is released, know that English University students are reading and thinking critically based on the above research. Now, I’m going to sharpen a few pencils for old times sakes…

8 thoughts on “A Glance at What Canadian English Students Are Reading this Fall

  1. Steph VanderMeulen (@Editor_Steph) says:

    Man, this brought back some great memories, and made me wish I could do this all over again! I took so many great courses, more than I needed even for my honours Eng. degree. Post-colonial, postmodern, American and Canadian Lit, the history of English, Old English, and a Tolkien and Lewis class that was superb.

    If I could do it all again without debt, and with new books, I would. I really got excited by the Queen’s books and their short story course!

  2. The Paperback Princess says:

    This really makes me wish that I was going back to school too! How quickly we forget the juggling act that was working full time, getting to class, completing readings, writing quality papers, and studying for exams at all hours of the night and day. Maybe I will just set up like I’m a student in some coffee shop and read whatever the hell I want with a caffeinated beverage close at hand.

  3. Chelsey says:

    I love this! In university, I used to go and pull out the syllabi of classes I couldn’t fit into my schedule just to see what their reading lists were. And before my student account was closed, I would go and check what my favourite teachers taught each year. I miss the feeling of going to pick up all those books and wondering about all the interesting things they would teach you.
    This makes me feel so nostalgic. I want to go back!!!

  4. kmn04books says:

    Like you, I feel very nostalgic for the back to school excitement and this post was such a great way to relive that! I’m partial to UBC because that’s where I went, but all of these courses sound so amazing! It makes me wish I could just take all of these courses online somehow 😛

  5. Lost in a Great BookJenn H says:

    Wow – serious flashbacks here 🙂

    I attended Queen’s (more years ago than I’ll admit here) during the great CanLit resurgence. As a result, I have great memories of Ann-Marie MacDonald at my tutorial group, poetry classes where friends of the prof (CanLit greats and greats-to-be) dropped in whenever to talk to us and some pretty great classes. Still, I’d likely trade it all for the chance to do it all over again, with more great topics and hundreds of amazing new titles. Wish I could just audit classes from everywhere!

  6. gonewiththebookCA says:

    So many fantastic courses to study now. In my final year at Mac (studying honours english) I had “Literature of Israel and Palestine” where we read authors like Amos Oz and David Grossman, “Women as Public Intellectuals” where we looked at thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Wendy Brown (who was a guest lecturer that year!!!) and “Contemporary Canadian Drama,” which was significantly lighter than the other two and included Ondaatje, Selvadurai and a novel written by the professor (James King). I had other courses that year too but not as interesting as those three. Good memories! 🙂

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