For many students, the chance to assume a glamorous new persona is one of the most alluring prospects afforded by university. This rite of passage, involving the systematic abandonment of every personality trait acquired over the past eighteen years, has traditionally been undertaken with the aid of certain classic novels. We’ve outlined these quintessential books below, so you too can join the fervent ranks of would-be bohemian undergrads, all questing for that Ueber-intellectual, Nietzsche-quoting, espresso-drinking, ebony-clad identity. Be different by being the same!
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
It’s always cool to read a book that’s been banned, a statement which you can follow up by several sneaky references to explicit carnal details in this one. You might imagine that the fawning student you’re sharing this intimate moment with now sees you as a dashing, rugged gamekeeper, experienced in unbridled al fresco shenanigans. But be honest: you don’t really want this to lead to the uninhibited union of mind and body in a dramatically-lit woodland glen as much as a quick fumble in the Hive car park.
Junkie by William Burroughs
A true Beatnik, much of your intellectual cachet comes from the deliberately vague, seemingly drug-addled nature of your speech. Rambling tales of excursions to the South Side, nights of psychotic hallucinations, and the time you woke up naked in a Travelodge with an empty wallet and a jar of mayonnaise beside you, are all carefully constructed to demonstrate that you are a bona fide member of the Counterculture. Just mind that your emulation of Burroughs doesn’t cross the fine line from amusing druggie to sweaty-palmed junkie ned.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
When the unbearable pressure that is your comfortable bourgeois upbringing gets to be too much, return to the Beat poets for a reminder that you are a free spirit at heart. You will not be stifled by the restrictions of the establishment – there’s so much more to life than education, man. Tragically, so few of your fellow students have the Zen-like ability to find beauty in the banal, to embrace the joy of the journey. You alone know the power of the 4am epiphany, experienced kebab in hand, stumbling soulfully down the middle of the road.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
It’s, like, an allegory about life and stuff. Come up with your own obscure interpretation and try it out on a fresher. Be sure to include some gratuitous allusions to Marxist structures of power, the outmoded nature of Freudian interpretations, and the fact that you’ve read it in the original German. You haven’t, but mumble something that sounds intimidatingly German-like; that’ll scare them good. Since when did intellectuals need friends, anyway?
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Firstly, this is a hefty book, thereby marking you as an individual who values intellectual clout over a healthy spine. Secondly, if anyone asks what the hell you’re reading, you can say it’s a vitriolic denunciation of the rampant consumerism and avarice of the Eighties, establishing beyond doubt your impeccable socialist credentials and lofty rejection of all things materialistic. Provided, of course, no further enquires into your ‘political stance’ follow. Should this happen, put on your iPod and run.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The bible for all tortured undergraduates. Your flatmates don’t get you, and why hasn’t that guy from the union called? It’s ok though, because you’re not like those Topshop clones. You’re edgy. Maybe you’re bisexual. Whatever, you’re not scared of being different. You’re just scared of being the same. So you buy more 2-for-1 classic novels and scatter them inconspicuously around your bedroom.
These novels each contribute a particular nuance to your delusions of grandeur: spontaneity, free-spiritedness, social consciousness, a grasp of the abstract that borders on genius, and above all, a dangerously sexy dark side. Just pick the pretensions you want to embody, and log on to Amazon. Sure, you’ll only ever read the blurb, you’ll have a constant feeling of acute self-loathing, and your fellow students will express the sudden urge to projectile vomit when you speak in seminars. Welcome to life with a University degree.