25/09/2012 10:33 BST | Updated 25/11/2012 05:12 GMT

The Five Books You Meet At University

If you're a book-lover and you're heading off to start university this Freshers' week, then good luck to you. You're going to need it.

Over the next three or so years you'll see enough of the bloody things to sink the Ancient Mariner's boat, and if you're studying literature for your degree, not all of them will come to occupy a special place in your heart. In fact, some you're going to downright loathe.


Reminiscing about our own cherished years shuffling from lecture hall to lecture hall, experimenting with cider that makes your gum bleed and moaning about Moby Dick, Huffington Post Culture decided - entirely scientifically - that there are five basic books you meet at university.

Like the characters in Mitch Albom's wistful The Five People You Meet In Heaven, these are not the only books you'll enounter at university but the five that will come to define your time on campus, and ultimately haunt you as you expire from this world.

Here are ours.



The Romantic Poets

Aged 15 I decided my best hope of getting girls would be to become a literary type, so I scoured the shelves of my local 2nd hand book shop for volumes of poetry, selecting them purely on how dusty, decrepit - and therefore clever - they looked. It didn't take long to stumble over the Romantics, but it did take me until University to realise that Wordsworth understood my inner ache for nature, Blake articulated my views on social politics and best of all, Coleridge approved entirely of my burgeoning opium addiction. Oh - and girls on English Lit MAs were far more impressed by them than the teenagers ever used to be. - Sam

Thomas Pynchon

Post-modernism makes a literature degree fun. The lecturers are nearly always the coolest, in a Steve Jobs kind of way. You get to watch cartoons in class and can look at your flatmate's Ikea lamp and muse, "hm, it's quite post-modernist". Yes, it can sound incredibly trite, but being introduced to elusive author Thomas Pynchon and his mad, sprawling 1960s novels (Gravity's Rainbow, The Crying Of Lot 49) was well worth my tuition fees. War books like no other, they combine sex with weapons, humour with death and leave you feeling utterly confused. Learning to appreciate an untidy ending is a valuable lesson both in literature and beyond. - Alice



Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Never read any of the big girl books. You know - Pride And Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights... all that wind-swept moor, redundant social etiquette, wet-haired stable-bastard crap. And it's not because I'm some sort of biblio-misogamist either - I just have as little interest in period romances as I do fantasy novels or books about child abductors, the difference is the former is a literary taboo utterly unjustifiable to your average fiery female English student. So I'd lie about it, having long since gleaned the jist of the big novels from others. Go on. Admit it though. You still think I'm a literature bigot. - Sam

Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe

I'd be lying if I said I'd never gone into a seminar without having finished the book. If that was the classification, it would include Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy and Great Expectations, to name a couple. However, I only ever got about 30 pages into Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders. Considered one of the pioneering first novels, based in the mean, gritty streets of 1720s London and full to brim with sex and vice, with one of the most feisty female protagonists in fiction, this was a huge mistake. I've nodded sagely when anybody has mentioned it ever since, but really it's all been a giant fib. I'm going to revisit it soon, though. - Alice



The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot

Many would say the main use of a literature degree is to become well-versed in the likes of Ulysses and Crime And Punishment. I have read neither. I do, however, have a few credible things to say about T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Furthermore, I can quote bits of it, and, importantly, it's one of those rare poems that genuinely moves me. Add in some contextual knowledge about the Arthurian Legend and the Modernist movement, plus some fun facts about the poet himself, and it's the perfect tool to appear supercilious at parties. - Alice

Paradise Lost, by John Milton

Like 99.9% of the population, I managed 5 minutes reading Ulysses and War And Peace before I shriveled into a ball and started biting my pillow in a rage of intellectual impotence. But thankfully I can look that other 'great unreadable', Paradise Lost, square in the eyeballs and tell it: "yeah, I rode you like a galloping stallion from the first page to the last and by the end, you were my tame seaside donkey..." Actually, I rather enjoyed the scope and wit and Milton's morally ambiguous tale of Heaven and Earth - maybe because I was raised Roman Catholic so it all still felt curiously rebellious. - Sam



Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

There were moments where I could have taken a blunt harpoon to Ahab and his insane mission to kill an apparently evil white whale. Moby Dick and I had a traumatic relationship, as could be be expected from a novel with 135 chapters and a plot that could be summed up in five pages. Weeks of maniacal determination, tortuous seminars and ceteological facts, however, wound up in some kind of weird whale-based love. Now I respect Melville's clever prose, his manipulation of the reader and his eerily waif-like narrator, but it took a while. - Alice

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

In all of the great, important literature has there ever been a more unbearable narrator than Victor Frankenstein? It would be easier to hate Mary Shelley's novel if it wasn't this thematically dense, genre-defining, endlessly influential masterpiece, but it is. Nevertheless listening to the sniveling, pompous Victor limp his way through her story was intolerable and will never be repeated now that I'll never have to write an essay about gothic traditions or God complexions ever again. The problem with Victor is that he's neither someone you respect as a hero or find thrilling as an antihero. He's just the worst little wet rag snitch you ever went to school with, inexplicably starring in his own cool horror story. - Sam



Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee

I get it, of course, on an academic level. It's beautifully written, metaphorically rich, a nuanced study of a fractured society, etc. - but so many of my fellow students thought Disgrace was the greatest book they'd ever read, and I couldn't see why. Deep down, I think I know the answer. David Lurie is a old man who still thinks he can act like a hip young gun slinger in his 20s, bedding other beautiful 20-something-year-olds and beating up 20-something-year-olds who cross him. He can do neither. He is fading, but he can't accept it gracefully and makes a fool of himself. Essentially he is the man all men are privately terrified of turning into. I don't 'get' Disgrace, probably because I'm dreading the day I come to get it only too well. - Sam

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

It causes me pain, but I have to admit it: I never really got Dickens. One of this country's most famous writers, and one obsessed with the city I live in, and I just didn't get on with his work. I enjoyed the first 100 pages or so of Great Expectations before getting bogged down in the characters and plotlines. It all seemed too fantastical to me - perhaps it's been too frequently recreated in other forms. I haven't given up on Dickens yet, and Little Britain street in the City remains one of my favourites, but I do feel a little sad I never understood why people love his novels. - Alice

What are the five books you met at university? Tell us below!