Summer in Oxford: punting, Pimm’s, and… Prelims. Every student’s favourite Holy Trinity. For many first-years and finalists, this may mean a term cooped up in the library. That being said, we all need some Vitamin D, and so the perfect way to soak up some of Oxford’s elusive sunshine (especially if you are one of the fortunate few without exams) is to sit peacefully in University Parks or Port Meadow with your favourite book.
Whilst this may simply sound like a highbrow form of procrastination, reading helps to relax the mind and alleviate stress. It carries your imagination far beyond the library walls and reminds you that recreational reading exists (as an English student, I often forget this). Below is a list of my top five comfort reads, designed to help you combat impending exam panic.
1. Swing Time, Zadie Smith (2016). This latest novel by one of Britain’s most brilliant contemporary writers follows its unnamed protagonist from her turbulent urban upbringing to her hectic job as PA to a world-famous pop star, wonderfully exploring her difficult familial and personal relationships. Engaging, thought- provoking and great for taking your mind off exams.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort (2007). One of the Oxford Union’s Hilary Term speakers, Belfort’s hilarious account of his chaotic life as a stockbroker and entrepreneur in 1980s America is a predominantly light-hearted (albeit drug-fuelled) tale of rags to riches and back again. Although the film adaptation (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) is brilliant, Belfort’s humorous writing style ensures a relaxing and hugely enjoyable read.
3. Wise Children, Angela Carter (1991). Starlets from stage to screen, Dora and Nora Chance are the illegitimate identical twins of theatre mogul Melchior Hazard, who is the head of a wealthy family of actors. This charming novel follows the ups and downs of their (not always) glittering lives, navigating over 100 years of dramatic history and leaving readers with a smile on their faces.
4. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). This short novel is set amidst the raucous glamour of 1920s New York and narrated by Nick Carraway, the neighbour of mysterious Jay Gatsby, who is privy to his outrageous parties and darkest secrets. Guaranteed to enchant and sadden simultaneously, especially for me, as it was discussed in my Oxford interviews.
5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling (1997). A comfort read from start to finish, this book will transport you straight back to childhood and carefree summers.It’s always magical to read the first novel in the series which details the sensational life of The Boy Who Lived and is filled with moving staircases, golden snitches, as well as one of the most endearing friendship trios in literature.The ultimate potion for calming pre-exam nerves and conjuring a little trip down memory lane – after all, we do study at Hogwarts!