Must-read books for first years
Every year, the University of Limerick selects seven non-academic books as a good read for students turning new chapters in their lives.
Foreword: Professor Joseph O'Connor
There are all sorts of reasons to read. But pleasure is the main one. The books we list below are all by great writers and immensely gifted storytellers who want to take us on a journey into the imagination.
The novels range from the classic Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, and as burningly relevant today as ever it was, to a deeply accomplished debut published earlier this year, Sara Baume's Spill Simmer Falter Wither. I'm delighted to say that this book has been selected by the University of Limerick as our 'One Campus One Book' novel for the coming academic year, which means many of our students and faculty will be reading it.
Reading fiction is sometimes seen as escapism, which, in one sense, it is. Storytelling is an escape from the prison of the self, leading to the greatest and most radical adventure any human being can have: seeing the world through the eyes of another. These novels will make you laugh, weep, gasp, feel delight, but, most of all, they will enrich you in unimaginable ways and you'll remember them for years to come.
So, take flight with these wings made of language and enjoy the journey. You never know what you'll find out there!
Professor Joseph O'Connor
Frank McCourt Chair in Creative Writing,
School of Culture and Communication,
University of Limerick
Must read books...
1. Vernon God Little
Vernon God Little is an absurdly humorous look at the misadventures of a Texas teen named Vernon Little whose best friend in the world has just killed sixteen of their classmates and himself. In the wake of the tragedy, the townspeople seek both answers and vengeance; because Vernon was the killer's closest friend, he becomes the focus of their fury.
The book tackles many aspects of modern American society, including mindless consumer culture, the death penalty for minors, news reporters casting tragedy as entertainment, and average citizens who crave fame. Vernon God Little has been awarded both the 2003 Man Booker Prize and the 2003 Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, and it remains one of only a handful of high-profile literary works to tackle the subject of school shootings in America.
2. Wuthering Heights
In 1801, Mr Lockwood, a wealthy man from the south of England, rents Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire for peace and recuperation. He visits his landlord, Mr Heathcliff, and from there the story of Wuthering Heights follows the life of Heathcliff, a mysterious gypsy-like person, from childhood (about seven years old).
Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant. He returns later, rich and educated, and sets about gaining his revenge on the two families that he believed ruined his life. The novel was considered controversial because its depiction of mental and physical cruelty was unusually stark, and it challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality.
3. Spill Simmer Falter Wither
Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a profoundly moving and extremely impressive debut novel. A story about a painfully lonely recluse, his viciously anti-social dog, and their intensely co-dependent relationship, the novel is written with exquisite care and precision. Brought up with only his cold father and the clutter of their house for company, the narrator fears the outside world and the other inhabitants of his seaside town.
Left completely alone and alienated following the death of his father, he gains a new companion by adopting an aggressive one-eyed dog, simply named One Eye. The pair form a partnership based on avoiding others: the protagonist's crippling shyness prevents him from venturing into the community, and One Eye tries to attack any other dog he comes across.
The narrator comes to depend on One Eye for company and purpose as much as One Eye depends on him for food and protection. Sara Baume recently won the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award with the story 'Solesearcher 1', and all the painstaking care and quiet fascination that characterised that story is equally prevalent throughout this novel.
4. A Game of Thrones
George R. R. Martin
A Game of Thrones is the first of seven planned novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series by American author George R. R. Martin. It was first published on 6 August 1996. The novel is set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a land reminiscent of Medieval Europe.
In Westeros the seasons last for years, sometimes decades, at a time. The novel follows a kingdom torn apart by civil war, rebellions and challenges to the throne.The novel has shot to fame through its highly-acclaimed HBO series by the same name.
5. The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Bonfire of the Vanities is a 1987 novel. The story is a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City and centres on three main characters: WASP bond trader Sherman McCoy, Jewish assistant district attorney Larry Kramer, and British expatriate journalist Peter Fallow.
The novel was originally conceived as a serial in the style of Charles Dickens' writings; it ran in 27 installments in Rolling Stone starting in 1984. Wolfe heavily revised it before it was published in book form. The novel was a bestseller and a phenomenal success, even in comparison with Wolfe's other books. It has often been called the quintessential novel of the 1980s.
6. The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Shadow of the Wind is a 2001 novel by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón and a worldwide bestseller. The book was translated into English in 2004 by Lucia Graves. The novel, set in post-war Barcelona, concerns a young boy, Daniel Sempere. Just after the war, Daniel's father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old books.
Everyone initiated to this secret place is allowed to take one book from it and must protect it for life. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. That morning he takes the book home and reads it, completely engrossed. Daniel then attempts to look for other books by this unknown author but can find none.
All he comes across are stories of a strange man - calling himself Laín Coubert, after a character in the book who happens to be the Devil - who has been seeking out Carax's books for decades, buying them all and burning them. The boy, Daniel Sempere, in his quest to discover Julian's other works, becomes involved in tracing the entire history of Carax.
7. The Bookseller of Kabul
The Bookseller of Kabul is a non-fiction book written by Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad, about a bookseller, Shah Muhammad Rais (whose name was changed to Sultan Khan), and his family in Kabul, Afghanistan, published in Norwegian in 2002 and English in 2003. It takes a novelistic approach, focusing on characters and the daily issues that they face.
Åsne Seierstad entered Afghanistan two weeks after the September 11 attacks and followed the Northern Alliance into Kabul where she spent three months. Disguising herself by wearing a burka, she lived with a bookseller and his family in Kabul which provided her with a unique opportunity to describe life as ordinary Afghan citizens saw it, which was the inspiration behind the book.
More about UL's 'First Seven Weeks'
First Seven Weeks is an orientation programme run by the University of Limerick designed to provide strong, enhanced and targeted support to students during the very early weeks of their time at UL.
The Programme was developed as a result of research carried out by the UL which has shown that this first seven weeks time period is crucial for new students to be introduced to and become familiar with the facilities, services, support systems, and opportunities that are available to them on campus.
UL Professor Sarah Moore, Associate Vice President Academic at UL said: "Research has shown us that incoming students who do not engage with certain aspects of university life in their first number of weeks on campus are unlikely to do so throughout their time at university.
"With this programme we are recognising that successful early adjustment is linked to subsequent success. We are providing a range of information, targeting our resources, and interacting with our new students in ways that make them know we care about them and are interested in their successful adjustment to student life."