Fifteen of the best books to read before you go to university

Congratulations to those who went to collect your A Level results today. We also extend our congratulations to those who couldn’t bear to collect their results, instead crossing their fingers that everything will work out and, come the late autumn, they’ll be heading off to their university of choice (or the university chosen for them).

To celebrate the day of heightened anxiety where a piece of A4 paper can change the entire path of your life, 4th Estate bring to you fifteen university set books to read in the summer of excitement and apprehension that stretches before you. From John Williams to Zadie Smith, by way of Martin Amis and Hilary Mantel, at least one of these books should set you up for university life. If not, you can definitely drop them into conversation and impress your tutor.



‘If you were ever young and thought you knew what you wanted, if you ever imagined that no one could feel such intensity of emotion as you, if you ever had your dreams dashed and your heart broken, then this is the book for you’ wrote a critic in The Times, on reading The Marriage Plot. Gorge yourself, future graduates. It is also noteworthy for offering perhaps the most cringe-inducing, yet all too familiar, love scene between two English majors, later referred to as ‘the Roland Barthes incident’.



‘The undergraduate is the easiest victim of living loveliness—is as a fire ever well and truly laid, amenable to a spark. And if the spark be such a flaring torch as Zuleika?—marvel not, reader, at the conflagration …  If any one of the undergraduates had met Miss Dobson in the desert of Sahara, he would have fallen in love with her; but not one in a thousand of them would have wished to die because she did not love him … A crowd, proportionately to its size, magnifies all that in its units pertains to the emotions, and diminishes all that in them pertains to thought. It was because these undergraduates were a crowd that their passion for Zuleika was so intense; and it was because they were a crowd that they followed so blindly the lead given to them. To die for Miss Dobson was “the thing to do.’



According to my count, there are 64 recipes in Nigel Slater’s latest cookbook that are a) delicious, healthy, will really impress your new friends, quick and easy to make and b) technically categorised as sandwiches and toast. What more does a student chef, with quite a lot of other things but food on the mind, need?


Read this at your peril. What starts off as quite a jolly Oxbridge romp, complete with tea rooms, unrequited crushes and exciting evenings at folk ‘Soc’, ends as something much darker. Feel free to skip the Freshers Week safety lecture – you won’t be roving the campus after dark after reading this thrilling page turner.




‘You’re only young once, they say, but doesn’t it go on for a long time? More years than you can bear.’








And some more…

all yeah

Words by Lettice Franklin and Candice Carty-Williams

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