Sartre once said, “Everything I have learned about my life, it seems I have learned in books.” Here we find ourselves at university for ‘x’ number of years under the guise of wanting to learn more and to better ourselves. We might go to lectures, read the set texts and learn a few life lessons along the way, but is it enough?
I don’t feel any wiser for being at university for nearly three years, or any more grown up. I constantly have this nagging feeling that I should be doing more with my time. Things like volunteering, work placements, getting a part time job, joining more societies, reading more… I could go on. Having never followed through with these fleeting moments of panic and in the interest of taking baby steps, my New Year’s resolution was to read more. Then maybe later I will attempt to conquer the rest of the never-ending list of things I should be doing whilst at university. With this in mind I compiled a short list of unranked, must read, potentially life-altering books that might reflect/compliment/enhance/even provide more insight into the university experience.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
This so called ‘novel without a hero’ is a dark portrayal of the fate of human nature succumbing to vanity through greed, idleness and snobbery – a charmingly relatable story as it sometimes feels that to pass go at the University of Nottingham you’ll need to be armed with at least a pair of Uggs, a Blackberry and Mini Cooper…
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The focus of Frankenstein is not so much on gothic horror but the pursuit of knowledge and the evils of knowing too much or too little – it brings into question creationism and the role of creator. It explores the possible reality that Frankenstein’s monster is a product of how humanity has nurtured him, and suggests ultimately that the evils that pursue us are of our own making.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
This story follows a hapless U.S Army Forces Bombardier who wishes to somehow escape the looming threat of death or fatal injury during World War Two. Incredibly funny and well written, I cannot help but feel grateful to Heller for giving me a way to articulate the majority of my unsolvable dilemmas whilst stuck in this limbo that is student-hood.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
In this semi-autobiographical novel we are immediately thrust into the world of 19-year-old student Esther Greenwood. Whilst interning for a magazine in New York, she reaches an impasse in her life: although incredibly academic, focussed, and well within reach of her dreams, when self doubt sets in her life begins to spiral out of control – before completely going up in flames. One to read before heading off into the world of work!
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Do not let the fact that it is essentially a children’s book put you off – it’s one of the bestselling books of all time for a reason. We learn about philosophical workings of life and human nature through the impartial eyes of a child, deeply idealistic and thought provoking. It takes very little effort to read, and has the bonus of coming with pictures – appealing directly to that inner child that university life so often brings out in people!
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (A Trilogy of Four) by Douglas Adams
Ignore the abomination that was the 2005 film, as it does not compare to the pure comedy genius of Adams’ novel. This is a beacon of British comedy, or perhaps stupidity. University seems to rush past in a blink of an eye, so at times I feel how the main character Arthur Dent feels when he says “that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.” Don’t let the world pass you by – grab your towel, stick out your thumb and go see what the world has to offer.