“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.”Sherman Alexie
I won’t claim that Alexie wrote this with Freshers’ Week at Southampton in mind, but it does seem oddly fitting.
I clearly recall my questionable mental state this time last year. I swung from a kind of hysterical mania at the prospect of moving from home and beginning an independent life, to excitement at embarking upon a life that just had to be exponentially more fulfilling and interesting than mine had been so far.
I imagine most people feel fundamentally the same before starting university. During those first few weeks my entire sense of self seemed to break down, like it was being digested by the monster that is FRESHERS. Was I being too quiet or was I being overbearing? Should I be funny or should I be clever or should I just be drunk? Self-doubt creeps in, inevitably. The bookworm can tend to be a shy and uncertain creature, after-all.
Several remedies are advisable for this malady: listening to music, talking to family, cooking lots of comfort food (which will make you popular with your flatmates) or, my personal favourite, reading.
While packing up those cheap Wilko saucepans (I implore you, invest in some good ones, six months in I was basically eating rust), your duvet and your new notepads, remember to slip in some of those comforting old books, dog-eared from countless readings. It could be Harry Potter or Jane Eyre or even Twilight… To quote another person I’ve only vaguely heard of but to whose wisdom I recommend you nonetheless:
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”Charles William Eliot
The sight of a shelf full of books, some waiting to greet you as old friends and some waiting patiently to be read for the first time, can be endlessly restorative whenever the longing for home, for a sofa and for real, living friends comes upon you.
When you move into Halls, a sort of nesting instinct takes over. Like a mother preparing a home for her babies, you will try and cram your small and sterile room full of things to make it not just hospitable, but a refuge. That might mean recreating your formidable floordrobe, setting up Fifa, or having pictures of friends and family on your noticeboard. Personally, I created a significant mountainous region on my bed with cushions and had lots of books strewn about. Harry Potter, Jane Eyre and A Room of One’s Own were favourites (what better than a book about the rights of women to education to get you working after Fresher’s…)
As the year wears on, you’ll find yourself more and more comfortable until you’re basically living in someone else’s room and quite happy to be considered less than the life and soul of the party. This is around the time you’ll be needing some pure escapism from the dry, dull reading for lectures and the seemingly endless writing of essays.
At this point, some will go out to Sobar, some will have a guilty afternoon nap and some will lock themselves up in their rooms and watch an entire series of Game of Thrones in one sitting. But bookworms will need a new book (perhaps in addition to the other three options.) A new book, for a new era.
In my case, I started to read the lengthy Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan which I have only recently completed. I lived through the trials and tribulations of the first year of university with those books. They were pure escapism, which I would recommend at this stage; after all you cannot subsist on a diet of edifying literature alone, so opt for a gruesome crime novel or a dreadfully inaccurate historical saga.
“People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”Logan Pearsall Smith
Warning: there may be a temptation to think like Mr Smith and hunker down in your room with a book, but Fresher’s is one nuclear fallout you shouldn’t miss. If reading teaches us anything, it is that the greatest moments of your life will inevitably be fleeting. Before you know it, you’re Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby is dead (I really hope no-one wanted to read that book…) Read at every given moment, by all means, but don’t forget that university is your chance to choose the kind of life you want to live. Try Jester’s, maybe just once, join societies and get to know your flatmates. Fill your first year with friendships and adventures and books and you can’t go far wrong.