Tuesday 27 September 2016

Must-read books for first years

The University of Limerick advises freshers to read widely - not just text books: here are its latest recommendations

Published 22/08/2016 | 06:00

Louise O'Neill.
Louise O'Neill.
Asking For It, by Louise O'Neill.

1. Asking For It, Louise O'Neill

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It's the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O'Donovan is 18 years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there's a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. 

Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre.
Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre.
Ben Goldacre.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can't remember what happened, she doesn't know how she got there. She doesn't know why she's in pain. But everyone else does. 

Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don't want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town's heroes...

2. Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

Full of spleen, this is a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the world of Bad Science. When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an 'Aqua Detox' footbath, releasing her toxins into the water, turning it brown, he thought he'd try the same at home. 'Like some kind of Johnny Ball-cum-Witchfinder General', using his girlfriend's Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: 'before my very eyes, the world's first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend's immorality.'

All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.
All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.
Anthony Doerr.

Dr Ben Goldacre was the author of the acclaimed Bad Science column in the Guardian. His book is about all the 'bad science' we are constantly bombarded with in the media and in advertising. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own 'bad science' moments from the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word 'visibly' in cosmetics ads. 

3. All the light we cannot see, Anthony Doerr

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorise it by touch and navigate her way home.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly, by Dominique Bauby.
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly, by Dominique Bauby.
Jean-Dominique Bauby

When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure's reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum's most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure's converge.

Doerr's "stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors" (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, All The Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer "whose sentences never fail to thrill" (Los Angeles Times).

4. The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng
The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng
Tan Twan Eng.

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem.  

After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.

By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father's voice on the phone.

In magical sequences, he imagines travelling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavour of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an "inexhaustible reservoir of sensations", keeping in touch with himself and the life around him. Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly.  This book is a lasting testament to his life. 

5. The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
John Steinbeck.

It's Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambridge and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan.

Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But The Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery.

The Three-body Problem, by Liu Cixin
The Three-body Problem, by Liu Cixin
Liu Cixin.

Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host, Magnus Praetorius, seems almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all? 

6. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

First published in 1939, Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California.

Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man's fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman's stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.

Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that The Battle Hymn of the Republic be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book -which takes its title from the first verse: "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." As Don DeLillo has claimed, Steinbeck shaped a "geography of conscience" with this novel where there is something at stake in every sentence."

Beyond that - for emotional urgency, evocative power, sustained impact, prophetic reach, and continued controversy - The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics. 

7. The Three-body problem, Liu Cixin

1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China's Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang's investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable and unpredicatable interaction of its three suns.

This is the Three-Body Problem and it is the key to everything: the key to the scientists' deaths, the key to a conspiracy that spans light-years and the key to the extinction-level threat humanity now faces.

Making the First Seven Weeks count

The 'reading for pleasure' list is only one of the initiatives taken by the University of Limerick to make college life a more rewarding experience.  Its First Seven Weeks programme helps new students get off to a flying start.                        

Devised by the UL Centre for Teaching and Learning, it is based on a recognition that good early adjustment is linked to later success. Other colleges have similar initiatives.

It covers themes such as study skills, health and wellbeing, learner support and provides a range of information and interactions with new students.

The programme has grown to include blogs by other students who offer their own advice to newcomers.

Karen McGrath, the Centre's senior administrator said that, notwithstanding the ease and popularity of digital communication, students still like to talk face to face. She expects a high level of personal callers to the First 7 Weeks Hub on the UL campus next month.

Irish Independent

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