Maybe you’re off to your dream university course, or perhaps you’ve had a slight change of plans, but once you have fixed on your course and destination, it won’t be long before you’re thinking about packing. You may have a set reading list, but whether you are doing English Literature or Theoretical Physics, here are six great book ideas for anyone setting out on a further education adventure.

  1. An Off-to-University Classic

There is nothing like reading about someone going off to university when you are going off to university. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (2013) has been adapted into a feature film due for release this September, but her The Secret History (1992) is what should be on your reading list. Outsider Richard, transferring to a new college, is slowly welcomed into a glamourous and secretive set of complex geniuses and at first, can’t believe his luck. As you would expect, the fun doesn’t last, and secrets, love, and power draw him deeper into danger and madness. Widely regarded as one of the best American ‘college’ novels, it will make you think twice about who you make friends with in your first term. You may also enjoy Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945), especially if you are going to Oxford (or wish you were).

  1. A Coming-of-Age Classic

It might be that the thought of university terrifies you, and what you really want is a last hurrah to freedom before you knuckle down for a tough course. If so, you may enjoy a coming of age classic. This genre exploded in the 1950s and 1960s as ‘teenagers’ became a real market for culture. Tried and tested bestsellers from the 50’s (JD Salinger The Catcher in the Rye, 1951), the 60’s (Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange, 1962), the 70’s (Martin Amis The Rachel Papers, 1971), the 80’s (Jeanette Winterson Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, 1985), the 90’s (Stephen Chbosky The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 1999), and the 00’s (Frank Portman King Dork, 2006), all show that when it comes to growing up, nothing really changes. If you fancy something more recent, try Sarah Rooney Normal People (2018), if you haven’t read it already!

  1. A Very Short Introduction to…

You will certainly have books and textbooks that you need to read for your course, but it never hurts to do a bit of background reading. Published by Oxford University Press, there are now over 600 of these very short introductions, so you are bound to find something relevant or interesting. They are written by academics, so are well researched, but are easy to read and accessible to anyone with an interest. The first official book (001) is Classics (1996), by Mary Beard and John Henderson, and the most recent is British Cinema (613) by Charles Burr (2019). Titles range from Concentration Camps (601) by Dan Stone (also 2019), to Pain (528) by Rob Bodice (2017), to Game Theory (173) by Ken Binmore (2007). Averaging at around 100 pages, they are perfect for a good overview, and will look impressive on your new bookshelf.

  1. An Old Favourite

University, especially if you are leaving home and moving far away, is a big change. Yes, there will be parties and socials, new friends and new hobbies, lectures and food shopping and fun. You should also expect that at some point, there will be low points, maybe homesickness, maybe fears about making friends, or missing old ones. It can really help to have an easy old favourite book you can turn to, for an hour of familiar comfort. You should know which book that is. You may like your worn-out old copy, or you might want to treat yourself to a new edition. Having some downtime with a book you love is a great way to recharge amid all the chaos of the first few weeks. Don’t be ashamed to take it with you. You may even find a new friend reading the same book.

  1. A Book About Mental Health

If a few hours with an old favourite book hasn’t cheered you, you are not alone. Universities are more aware than they have ever been about the importance of good mental health for their students, and thankfully, most young people are too. Leaving friends and family, having to manage your finances, feeling overwhelmed by your workload, lack of sleep and poor diet can put a strain on anyone’s mental health. However, you will never have access to more support and services to help you than in your first term at university, so take advantage of it. In the meantime, Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive (2015) and especially Notes on a Nervous Planet (2018) are a compelling mixture of autobiography, comment on and advice for our anxious times and are well worth having on your university shelf.

  1. A Diary, Planner, Organiser

We have never had more technology available to us to help us organise our lives. Calendars, social media birthday notifications and productivity apps can easily dictate our working and social lives. However, at least 30% of us still buy a physical diary every year. What’s even more interesting, although perhaps not surprising, is that paper diary sales are steadily increasing among the under 25s. Why? The joy of physically writing things down. Having a digital break. Seeing everything in one place. Perhaps getting into the almost cult-like world of Bullet Journaling (BuJo for those in the know) and feeling part of something different. Falling somewhere between a to-do list and a traditional ‘dear diary’ to record feelings and hopes, today’s editions are championing a new form of paper-based expression that isn’t ‘shared’. Try a paper diary for the new term and see for yourself.

Books have always helped us to make sense of the world around us, especially when our world is changing. A good set of books will be a constant companion, whatever life brings. Come and find some paper companions at Booka to take with you to university, or send a departing student away with a book they can turn to when they need some joy.

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