So between having friends to stay, hopping between cities and going out at night, I haven’t had a chance to read a complete book this week. Shocking, I know. Instead of a normal blog post, then, I thought I’d bestow some hard-earned wisdom of the last three years, on those about to go to uni. There are some books I think most people need to have read anyway, some that I would have been left out of many conversations if I hadn’t read them, and some about growing up or university that I think are key to the experience of moving away from home. There are so many more I think I ought to recommend than the ten listed below for general reading, but many of those I never got around to reading, whereas all of the above I can recommend with certainty. Please comment below any you think should be added!
…as if you haven’t already.
You probably need to have read some Poe, at some point. Read The Raven, or read this short story, and you pretty much have everything you need to survive a conversation about Poe. It’s about a brother and sister who are the last of the aristocratic Usher family, being visited by the brother’s childhood friend, a nameless narrator. It covers themes of incest, dying aristocracy, modernity, and cool gothic stuff.
Narrator goes to mysterious elite American university, makes friends with a strange culty group of friends and mysterious, murderous shenanigans ensue. Great book. Like The Great Gatsby (which should probably also be on this list – I remembered to slip it in here though, because I read it the same summer as The Secret History), it is written from the point of view of a less protagonist-y narrator, very much about the other characters rather than the narrator himself. Intense reading.
4. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
A book about the trials and troubles of growing up. Strong narrative voice. Important book.
I’m not going to push the Silmarillion on anyone, but it will pay to have read at least The Hobbit, if not The Lord Of The Rings. The trilogy can be pretty daunting because it is so densely written, but the summer before you go to uni is probably the right time to give it a try. If not, I believe anyone can read The Hobbit. That way you get to talk about everything that is wrong with the current films (hurray!)
So enjoyable. If you need a helping hand into sci-fi, this is it. And if you go to uni not knowing a) that the meaning of life is 42, b) that you always need a towel or c) why the only thought of a bowl of petunias as it falls through the air before crashing to the ground is ‘oh no, not again’, you might miss out on a lot of in-jokes.
Obvious reasons. If you don’t know the BIG BROTHER IS ALWAYS WATCHING then you might miss out on some political conversation.
Preceding Orwell’s novel by sixteen years, this novel is perhaps more relevant than Nineteen-Eighty Four, despite not having quite as enormous a reputation. Orwell’s world is run by fear, in Huxley’s imagined world the human race is controlled by pleasure – there is no need to ban books because no one reads them, the news is boring and people would much rather look at pretty or amusing things elsewhere than pay attention to bad things that happen in the world.
If you can make connections like that in a debate, you’ll look like you know your shit.
This is on here to kill two birds with one stone and make this part of the list a nice even ten. I wanted to recommend that you read at least one work by Neil Gaiman and one by Pratchett – this one they collaborated on, and it’s fantastic anyway. I’ve only read a couple of the Discworld novels but there’s a reason they’ve become a fantasy staple. I can personally recommend Mort as my favourite of the few of I’ve read. For Neil Gaiman, I would absolutely recommend Neverwhere, but I will also push the book of Stardust (nothing like the film but worth the read), American Gods (which I will admit to not having finished) and the Sandman comics – which brings me onto my last recommendation…
My particular recommendations: Watchmen (for full review, click here), V For Vendetta (because people will always be complaining about the difference between the film and the comic book – likewise Watchmen), and The Killing Joke (so you can get back into the DC franchise in the best way, just as it’s about to take off again)
Now for the pragmatic side:
To survive student life:
- A budget cookbook (preferably by A Girl Called Jack)
- Acquaint yourself with as many extremest manifestos as you can stomach – particularly communism. It will probably be talked about a lot.
- Acquaint yourself with some gender theory (Simone de Beauvoir), some philosophical theory and some mathematical theory ( An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy by Bertrand Russell), and some LGBT theory. Also some Freud, as much as you can stand.
- Have some knowledge of a current major TV show – most likely to come up: Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dexter, House Of Cards, Attack On Titan (and one to watch out for over the next few years I think, Penny Dreadful)
For English students in particular:
- Theory again: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex for gender, some Freud (probably The Uncanny), and some Colin McCabe if you’re doing Realism or Modernism
- As much Shakespeare as possible. You will almost definitely need to know Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and one of the histories (we did Henry V). If you don’t know where quotes such as ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’, or ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’ come from, it’s time to brush up your Shakespeare.
- Get to know some of your Romantic poets.
- Even though I’m not a huge fan, some Angela Carter. Or any other important feminist/female writer: Germaine Greer, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot. It’s just important to know some of their stuff.
- Dracula and Frankenstein
So that’s it – done in a bit of a rush, and I’ll be back to posting plain old book reviews next week. Hope you enjoy my collection of books to read before you go to uni!
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The Book Depository
Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.