10 books to read in your first semester
With the Leaving Cert results out this week, here’s a literary taster of what to expect at third level
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis (1954)
A reluctant professor of medieval history in an 1950s English university, Jim Dixon rebels against the pretensions of academic life. One of the best comic novels in modern literary history, Dixon’s relations with his peers and his sometimes girlfriend, fellow lecturer Margaret, make for an entertaining read.
The Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis (1984)
Relating the escapades of a bunch of spoilt bohemian college students in 1980s New Hampshire, the story is told from the perspective of three main characters involved in a love triangle. Drink, drugs and Dressed to Get Screwed parties take precedence over classes at the fictional liberal arts college where Paul, Sean and Lauren run amok.
Circle of Friends, Maeve Binchy (1990)
Following the trials and tribulations of a group of friends in a Dublin university, Binchy’s tale of friendship and loss in 1950s Ireland still has relevance today. Country girls Benny and Eve become friends with Jack and Nan soon after arriving in Dublin. Love and laughs soon follow, with darker subplots of betrayal and class divisions helping to sustain the story.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
A fish out of water, Californian Richard Papen moves to Vermont for college and becomes obsessed with a small and mysterious clique of friends studying Ancient Greek. Delighted to be accepted into their ranks, Richard soon gets dragged into their bizarre friendships and murderous secrets.
I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe (2004)
The eponymous heroine’s smarts and hard work win her a scholarship to the prestigious Dupont University, a fictional amgalmation of America’s Ivy League colleges. The privileged students she meets there include sex obsessed Beverly and the handsome Hoyt Thorpe, a frat boy who becomes a powerful presence on campus after catching a well-known politician in a compromising position with a student.
Light Years, Tammar Stein (2008)
The American author’s award-winning novel tackles difficult themes of guilt and grief. When her boyfriend is killed in a suicide bomb that she inadvertently provoked, 18-year-old Maya leaves Israel for college in the US in search of redemption.
All Names Have Been Changed, Claire Kilroy (2009)
A group of postgraduate students in Trinity College compete with each other for the attentions of their famous mentor Glynn. A renowned writer, Glynn drinks more than he teaches and the various creative writing pursuits of his pupils fail interest to him. Little work and lots of Guinness in 1980s Dublin.
The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)
The author’s third book has a more whimsical subject matter than his earlier works, focusing on the lives and awakenings of three college students from Brown University. Waking up hungover on graduation day, Madeleine must face up to reality after life on campus. A beautifully written novel that switches effortlessly between the voices of its three protagonists – cautious Madeleine, lovelorn Mitchell and manic depressive Leonard – as they find their way through life in the shadow of each other.
You and I, Emily Gillmor Murphy (2012)
Wexford teenager Olive is shy and innocent when she arrives to study at University College Dublin. Introduced to the partying scene by wild housemate Rosanna, and pursued by a boy with a bad reputation from Trinity, Olive must learn to navigate the pitfalls of campus life.
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell (2013)
A young adult novel set on campus at the University of Nebraska, Fangirl tells the stories of sisters Cath and Wren Avery as they arrive for their freshman year, each with issues in tow. Told from the perspective of Cath, this coming of age tale about fan fiction and relationships has a love of books and their restorative power at its heart. As Wren makes new friends at college, Cath comes to depend on the fandom of her prized Simon Snow books.
What did you read in first year? Let us know in the comments box.