A new university term means a new editorial team at The Oxford Student. To make things more creative, we have chosen five books from our shelves that characterise us:
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam This is quite simply the best comic novel in English, bar none. The sheer force and volume of ideas this novel throws at its reader was enough to lift my adolescent head off, and in many ways I’m still reeling from the shock. And if there’s a single character who embodies my general outlook on life, it’s Arthur Dent.
2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell If there is a single novel I can point to and say, ‘This is the reason I decided to study English’, this is it. Cloud Atlas is a work of mad genius, weaving together six totally different stories panning multiple continents, time periods and literary genres, but what’s most amazing is that all of it fits together perfectly. If Mitchell can be this clever and also this entertaining, there really is no excuse for the rest of us.
3. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde I’m not sure it’s actually possible for a play to be more fun than this. Reading the part of Algernon in A-level English class was a formative experience. The sheer joy of the whole thing pretty much single-handedly ended a prolonged period of extremely tiresome teenage angst, and set me on the straight and narrow path marked ‘if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right’. I cannot think of a better role model than Algernon Moncrieff. Well, I can, but I defy you to come up with a funnier one.
4. The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson A tutor once asked me why I used so many dashes in my essays. I felt terribly embarrassed and mumbled something about not being able to organise my thoughts properly. The real answer is that I read too much Emily Dickinson. Actually, scratch that. You can never have too much Emily Dickinson. Despite what some naysayers may tell you, you will not find a more joyful poet.
5. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell Another one read at a formative age. In some ways a conventional love story, in others a wonderfully witty and subversive take on the genre, this novel reduced me to a blubbering wreck at the tender age of seventeen. This is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.
6. Wuthering Heights by EmilyBrontë As I stepped into the threshold of Wuthering Heights, into the depths of Emily Brontë’s tempestuous world, I found myself in the midst of a heated love relationship bordering on insanity. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre does indeed seem to be widely read, but this certainly puts up a fight. The settings are well-developed to reflect an ominous atmosphere that overshadows the entire novel, and Brontë’s language skillfully explores the psyche of her characters. This is certainly an essential for any erudite bookshelf.
7. Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) by Günter Grass The Nobel-prize winning author sadly passed away two weeks ago. Whilst Will calls me a snob against contemporary literature, there are a few exceptions that I find absolutely splendid. Grass’ masterpiece tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, a child who has decided to stop growing at the age of three! He experiences the tyranny of the Nazi regime, as well as the post-war socio-economic climate of Germany. Despite his infantile physical appearance, he leads an adult life, has sex with his step-mother (potentially siring the child of his father), works as a nude model, and plays his beloved tin-drum as he finds communication a bore. But this scanty description does not do the book justice; Grass’ humour and irony pierces through each episode of Oskar’s narration. RIP Günter Grass.
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Oh Gatsby, you old sport, how hard you tried to find your Daisy, only for her to abandon you in the iciest manner. Set in the Roaring Twenties, with its debauched morality, decadent parties and capitalistic obsession, it brings to light the failures of the American Dream as Gatsby fails to survive. For me, Gatsby is the Heathcliff of the 20th century.
9. Heidi by Johanna Spyri Heidi is my childhood all time favourite. Orphaned from a young age, she was sent to the village on the Alm in Switzerland to live with her grandfather. She transitions into her new life with ease, and spends the day herding goats up to the mountaintop. All is well until one day, her aunt Dete returns to take Heidi to Frankfurt am Main in Germany as a hired companion for a wealthy family. Heidi soon becomes homesick; her free-spirited self is repressed in the urban scene of the metropolis.
10. ‘An old baguette’ Somewhat infamous amongst close friends, my shelf has been known for its controversial display of baguette art, normally found on top of a tattered copy of Atlas Shrugged. A piece of French baguette has been air-dried lest it disintegrates, and elevated with bent paper clips in a pseudo-Dalian fashion. The weighty load seemingly defies nature by being suspended in the air. The piece symbolises that no matter the origin, if one perseveres, one can always succeed and rise amongst the ranks. Say what you will, but this is an old dweller of my shelf that I am proud to call art.