For those of you who are getting started with the course reading, the first text -- Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co. -- is the foundation for our understanding of all the readings that follow. Read Stalky & Co. as a literary manifestation of the code of masculinity that was uniform in the British Empire to 1945.
Kipling is a very great author. The fact that he provokes intense emotional reactions from literati both for an against is a mark of his undeniable and peerless literary excellence. There is little worse than an author expressing views that you loathe with supreme literary genius -- and little better on the other side.
Be sure to engage the book on its own terms in the first reading, and try to gain sensibility for its aesthetic: Stalky & Co. had almost universal reach and its direct literary influence on English life & letters is practically impossible to overstate.
It is in many ways very contemporary: picaresque and crude, written in note-perfect sub-group vernacular, and a very rare inner-portrait of an under-culture by a legitimate member who happened also to possess the ability to express the reality in brilliant fiction.