17 Really Great Books That Everyone Should Read After University Ends
I've always loved reading ever since I was a kid. I let my love of reading guide me all the way to an English degree at university. However, the trouble with studying English literature, or, indeed any other degree, is that you don't ever really get much time to read for pleasure. You spend so much of your course reading set texts and writing essays about them that you end up missing out on plenty of great books.
The other issue with finishing university is that you suddenly find yourself with a great deal of time for reading and no idea where to start.
Well I graduated over a year ago now and I think I've got to a point where I've read more novels and plays in one year than I did in three years at university. My hour long commute to the Pretty52 office is a great time to read and in that time I've discovered some really excellent books. So I've put together a list of books I'd really recommend. Not all of them are 'enjoyable' in the traditional sense, but I think they're all books that you can get a lot out of if you put in the time and effort. So get your book vouchers and Kindles at the ready, readers because we're going on an adventure through the bookshelf!
1. You Don't Have To Live Like This - Benjamin Markovits. - Okay, to be fair I'm probably a little bit biased on this one because I know Ben quite well (he was one of my tutors at university) but his latest novel is absolutely fantastic. It's the story of a man named Greg Marnier who is convinced by an old college friend to take part in a bizarre social experiment. The wealthy old friend has bought a load of badly run-down houses in Detroit which he is going to do up and rent out to intellectual and cultural icons who can 'add value' to the city. The novel touches on themes including capitalism, race relations, urban regeneration, and family. It's unashamedly bleak but the writing is so excellent that it's worth picking up anyway.
2. After The End - Dennis Kelly (A play). - Imagine you woke up one morning, in a bunker underground with that creepy weirdo from your work. He managed to carry you to the safety of his homemade fallout shelter after a nuclear apocalypse wiped out the rest of mankind. What do you do next? How do you live with that? Dennis Kelly is a hugely well-known playwright, but in my mind After The End is definitely his greatest work. There are only two characters throughout and the tension ramps up really quickly so by the shocking climax in the penultimate act your jaw is basically on the floor.
3. The Song Of Achilles - Madeline Miller. - This is the only book that has ever made me cry. Madeline Miller's love story between exiled prince Patroclus and Greece's golden boy, Achilles, is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking. Miller works as a lecturer in Classics and her thorough knowledge of the Ancient Greek world and mythology combines with a oddly contemporary romance for the best tragic love story since Romeo And Juliet. I've read this book several times and it never fails to hit me right in the feels. If you like romance and Greek myths then this would be perfect for you.
4. American Gods - Neil Gaiman. - This one is coming to television soon so you should definitely read up before it hits your screen. The story is based on a fairly simple premise - what the heck happened to all the gods; Norse, Greek, Roman, Egyptian and more; when humanity stopped believing in them? Told through the eyes of troubled recently released prisoner Shadow as he's co-opted into a scheme to bring the gods back. This is a really cool, really interesting take on the idea of religion and there's plenty of dark magic and unexpected humour at play in this one.
5. The Shining - Stephen King. - Most people have heard of Stanley Kubrick's classic horror movie, but did you know it was a novel first? Having seen the film shortly after reading the novel, let me assure you, the book is better. So much better. In fact, the book is so much better that that movie looks absolutely atrocious in comparison. For those who are unfamiliar, the novel charts the descent into madness of a man named Jack Torrance after he takes a job as the caretaker of a haunted hotel over winter. Meanwhile his son Danny's latent psychic ability starts to manifest in terrifying new ways thanks to the hotel's influence. Stephen King's writing has dipped in quality a lot over the years, but after reading this it's not hard to see why he became so popular in the first place!
6. And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie. - I was first interested in this one after watching the BBC television series that was broadcast over New Year and although that was a very good adaption (even better in some ways) the original novel is definitely worth picking up. The story is about a collection of random strangers who are invited to a party hosted on a deserted island off the coast of England. However, it doesn't take long before the party-goers realise they've all been tricked into a trap and one of them is out to murder everyone else. The novel is stuffed with Agatha Christie's trademark twists and turns and the solution to the mystery is genuinely brilliant. I cannot recommend it enough!
7. Mercury Fur - Philip Ridley. (A play.) - Disclaimer on this one. It is absolutely horrifying. It's not scary, but there are some pretty brutal acts of violence inflicted on characters in it so if you're easily freaked out, I'd avoid this one. For everyone else, Mercury Fur is incredible. It's shocking, it's gross, it'll make you sick but it's amazing. Set in a post-apocalyptic London where violent gangs prowl the streets and weird hallucinogenic butterflies fall from the sky causing people to experience strange visions, it's the story of two brothers who make a living by organising 'parties' where amoral wealthy clients can enact their horrifying fantasies. It'll make you shudder, but this play is definitely one that'll stay with you.
8. The Crying Of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon. - This one is a difficult read. You kind of have to let the whole thing wash over you and just accept everything it throws at you. Pynchon's incredibly dense, seemingly-random prose hides a huge amount of depth if you can be bothered digging. The Crying Of Lot 49 tells the story of Oedipa Maas who goes to oversee the will of her ex-boyfriend after his mysterious death. She stumbles on a mystery at the heart of the American postal system and things get very strange from there on out. As I say, this is definitely one of the most challenging books I ever read but it's definitely worth it!
9. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry. - Mistry has been referred to as the Indian Dickens and it's not hard to see why. A Fine Balance is a long book but it's chock-full of Dickensian characters struggling to exist in the turbulent world of India in the late 1970s. It's hard to believe the events he describes happened so recently, but A Fine Balance is all based on fact. The story weaves together the lives of four characters through the text, the upper class student Maneck Kohlah, the middle-class widower Dina Dalal, and the very lower class Ishvar Darji, and his nephew Omprakash Darji. It's a novel about class and money and power and it's a genuinely thrilling read. It's often so easy to forget writers from other countries when it comes to reading great literature, and Mistry's novel will definitely give you a new perspective that you might not get with a Western novelist.
10. Zoo City - Lauren Beukes. - A very strange sci-fi novel set in Johannesburg, South Africa. The plot basically revolves around a private detective on the hunt for a missing child star. However, the twist is that in the world of this novel, everyone who has ever murdered someone is accompanied by an animal companion. The main character, Zinzi December, has a sloth companion who accompanies her and grants her psychic powers, but she has to protect him from harm lest she be consumed by a magical dark energy. It's a very cool book and it provides an interesting metaphor for the real South Africa. I'd definitely recommend!
11. Travels In Italy For The Poor And Uncultured. - Taylor J R Small. (Kindle exclusive.) - I happened to chance upon this one while I was adventuring through the Kindle store and picked it up on a whim since I'd just visited Italy myself. It's an autobiographical account of a student's interrailing trip around Italy and while the writer is by no means a professional, it's a great book. If you've ever read Billy Bryson (back when he was good) it's a similar style but way more modern. It's a tale of love, friendship, and more pizza than you can imagine. If you've ever been a student on holiday you'll definitely find something to relate to!
12. The Monk - Matthew Gregory Lewis. - The Monk is one of those incredible books that you can't quite believe is as old as it is. The novel was first published in 1796 where it was soon banned for being so scandalous. That said, it definitely reads as quite a modern text. The a series of absolutely incredible stories that all weave through each other. There's everything from ghosts to murder to robbers to evil monks to the actual devil. Basically the whole book is like a batsh*t crazy version of Love Actually and it's a hoot from beginning to end!
13. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut. - This is one of those books you've probably heard the title of but never actually read. I finished it last week and let me assure you, it's very, very good indeed. It tells the story of Billy Pilgrim a man whose life becomes dislocated in time as a result of the horrors he experiences as a prisoner of war in the Second World War. The story jumps back and forth through time as Billy experiences the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (or maybe it's time travel!) This is definitely a bit of a weird book and it remains very open-ended but it really captures the horrors of war and what that can do to a person's mind.
14. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman. - One of the first landmark feminist texts, The Yellow Wallpaper explores the descent into psychosis of a woman as a result of poor mental and physical health treatment. The patriarchy's poor treatment of women is the major theme of the short story and it's definitely one that'll get you thinking about the way women are, and have been, treated by society.
15. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe. - Things Fall Apart is considered by plenty of scholars to be the defining work of post-colonial literature and it's a truly magical text. The book tells the story of Okonkwo, an African tribal leader who, due to various forces beyond his control including tribal law and the invasion of Western colonists, finds his life slowly falling apart. It's a perfectly crafted tragedy and it'll definitely make you consider the wider world in ways that you might never have been forced to confront before.
16. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle. - Despite him being the world's most famous detective, it's always surprising how few people have actually read the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Luckily they're super easy and quick to read as they're mostly all short stories. While all the stories are great, The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes are really the peak of the character. If you're a big fan of the Sherlock TV series you'll probably be pretty much blown away by how faithfully it has been adapted from the original text.
17. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath. - Considering that this one is due for a brand new film adaption directed by Kirsten Dunst and starring Dakota Fanning, now might be the ideal time to pick up a copy of The Bell Jar, but be warned it might be quite a tough reality check for all of you just leaving university. The novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood who struggles with depression after being confronted with the harsh realities of life after university and seeing first-hand how badly women are treated by society. Despite the dark themes the novel explores, Plath's seminal classic has quite a comic tone and there are a lot of subtle laughs embedded into the text. It's a tough read but definitely something character building!
Do you have any books of your own that everyone needs to hear about? Why not drop us a comment and let us know?
Written by Jack Rear
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