September 2008. “£5 off for every £100 you spend” was the reward promised if you signed up for Blackwell’s card on your first trip to the Portland Building. At the time I scoffed inwardly, but if you make it through the first year with less than £10 in rewards, then you either work for Waterstone’s or you’re doing it wrong.Ernest Hemingway once wrote that there is “no friend as loyal as a book”, and as much as he should have really sought out better company, the books we read in our first year can be as influential, supportive, and life-changing as the friends we make:
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Opening the very first page of my very first book as an official English student felt like quite a momentous occasion. The rationale behind studying The Turn of The Screw first was probably that at a mere 150 pages long, it would ease us trembling Freshers into three years of that ‘must-read-faster’ feeling. In actual fact, however, it eased me into accepting that no matter what, at some point you will just have to Google the ending.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
I was fairly certain on arriving in Nottingham that everyone at the university would be a D. H. Lawrence expert. Concerned about having to sit around talking about the decoration of Mellors’ ‘John Thomas’ with flowers as the metaphorical representation of post-industrial Nottinghamshire, I made sure I’d read Lady Chatterley before I arrived. Despite it being a very different kind of ‘Cr-isis’ that most people were actually concerned with, Lawrence is Nottingham, and Lady Chatterley is Fresher’s Week: class conflict, sex, and comedy.
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
It was on November 2008 when the last US general election took place, and any desires one might have had of becoming an (admittedly much-stereotyped) politically minded student were gratified by one Barack Obama. Next to Gordon Brown and the frustrating fight for middle ground in British politics, Obama was a dream come true for aspirant activists. A community leader, a politician, an orator, and a writer; there was nothing he couldn’t do, and this book proved he was human too.
Europe on a Shoestring by Lonely Planet
A summer holiday that lasts four months is not a holiday. It’s a quarter of a year. Internships are for second year, employment (hopefully) is for third, so after first year this kind of book becomes the bible for many students. Firstly, I worshipped it as a beacon of hope on my bookshelf, shining down on me during the last few painful weeks of revision; and then during August it was the source of all wisdom. How do you say thank you in Serbo-Croat? How much did I just get ripped off for this taxi? And what the heck am I eating? All hail the omniscient Lonely Planet, and the end of a first year in books to remember.