GRE Reading List: British Reading on the Web

There is a common belief amongst many that the English tend to be more eloquent than their English-speaking counterparts on this side of the pond. While this assumption is open to question, the spate of highbrow English periodicals/newspapers – at least in proportion to their population – lends some credence to this view.

For the GRE student, this point is obviously moot, since improving their understanding of difficult passages in this matter is almost entirely moot. What’s important is that beyond The Economist, a plethora of academic, highbrow writing awaits those ready to direct their web browsers to


London Book Review

“A couple of nights before I first saw the Richter show at Tate Modern, I had been at the Festival Hall listening to Boulez conduct his Pli selon pli. I felt then, as the octogenarian directed us through his atrocious and wonderful labyrinth, that it was sheer luck – the luck of a lifetime – to have caught this last intransigence of modernism on the wing. When the soprano sang the final word of Mallarmé’s ‘Un peu profond ruisseau calomnié la mort’, with her voice disappearing in a ghost-story gasp, I thought I heard a whole culture refusing to go gracefully. The German’s tone is different from the Frenchman’s: more wounded and muffled and sardonic and naive, less pedagogical, less deeply immersed in the agony that gave rise to modernism in the first place. Richter’s Duchamp is a poor substitute for Boulez’s Mahler. But the two old men are comparable. Hearing the one, and looking at the other, I was sure that the nature of a vanished century, and the survival of the claim to art it gave rise to – the full recognition of the improbability of the claim – were at stake.”

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I only recommend this level of reading for those who are looking to score in the top 15%. This writing is obviously challenging, and if you look at the Official Guide book, in the easy and medium sections, the passages are much more straightforward than the above. And, while this excerpt can seem head-scratchingly forbidding and dense (yuck, he used the word “Modernism”. Twice), not all that writing on The London Book Review is quite this abstruse.

Finally, the site is pretty navigable, as there aren’t too many essays, and amongst those essays, only some are free.

The Guardian

In general, The Guardian features strong writing. Like many news sites, it is sprawling, and sometimes finding an article that is similar in tone, style, and vocab to a GRE passage can be difficult.

The Guardian Art Critic Laura Cumming makes this search easy. Her writing is erudite and eloquent.

“The picture height was meticulous. The lighting was also adjusted to Rothko’s suggestions, so that foreground and background appeared in greater oscillation according to the combination of natural and artificial light.

This variety is considerable, from the distinctive photo-paintings with their supersmooth blur that have made him the world’s most revered (and expensive) living painter, to the miasmic grey abstracts, “like photographs of nothing”; from the outsize colour charts, to the colossal magnifications of his own brushstrokes – always derived from photographs. But, by far the most distinctive is the famous blur, where the image is brushed across in delicate sweeps, or dissolves into an almost imperceptible sfumato, taking the image with it – distanced, ungraspable, lost to the past or beyond us.”

Her cohort at The Guardian, Marina Warner, also offers up probing articles on the intersection of art, culture, and history.

“The temple in the City had become a base to castigate the buyers and sellers over the way. There were also historical connections: Mary in modern times appears in visions to the poor, unlettered, downtrodden; to children, women, the overworked and underpaid.

However much the doctrine commands the faithful to worship God through Mary and not Mary herself, almost every contemporary image I have looked at shows Mary on her own, usually standing on the moon, an apocalyptic figure of power, resplendent, blessings flowing from her hands.”

And here are both, opining on Alice in Wonderland, specifically an exhibit of the illustrator Lewis Caroll’s original work (who thought that an ostensibly children’s book could engender such thoughtful prose?).

“Alice in art: what a promising idea for a show. Why, the images are already there in one’s head. The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen and the smoking Caterpillar, the Dormouse dunked in the teapot, the Cheshire Cat’s smile hovering in thin air, Alice in pinafore and pumps shrinking and growing and swimming through a pool of her own tears: every character and scene is proverbial.”

“The eccentric and miraculous creator of Alice was one of history’s great refusers. Like Kafka, with whom he has more in common than usually recognised, Dodgson could never resolve himself to move to the next stage of his life: he never took holy orders, never rose in the college hierarchy, never married. He was happy only in the company of children. However, he looked after a large number of other unmarried siblings (especially after he made so much money with the Alice books), campaigned against vivisection, seems to have devised the single transferable vote, and successfully pressed to improve the living conditions of child performers.”



You may think, “Yeah, but I’d rather be reading something I’m interested in”. Remember, you will most likely be uninterested in the passages on the GRE. By reading articles about Degas’ use of lighting in rendering ballerinas, you’ll be ready for the equally fascinating passage on radioisotope dating and metamorphic rocks.



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One Response to GRE Reading List: British Reading on the Web

  1. Santoshkalyan August 17, 2012 at 2:39 am #


    How do you contrast Best American Series with these articles ?

    I have just 60 more days for my GRE, and been scoring 156-158 (V) in Manhattan Tests – Verbal..

    Most of my mistakes related to be in RCs related to Literature, Arts etc.

    P.s Thanks for this article..


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