Monday, May 21, 2012

Seven books you HAVE to read before you finish university


Books Many of us think of university as the great opening-up of our lives – a time to explore new ideas and new ways of thinking.  The following books are just a tiny smidge of the countless great works of literature available today.  But these seven are required reading for university students because they all have, at their core, a deep discontent for the status quo, which many of us share at this time in our lives.  Enjoy.

On The Road – Jack Kerouac
If you only read one book while at university, make it this one.  On The Road chronicles the spontaneous road trips of Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter ego) across mid-century America.  Accompanied by his friend, the irascible Dean Moriarty, Sal goes coast-to-coast in search of “it”.  What is “it”?  Trust me, you know.  No, really, you do.  Sal tells us that he has been yearning for years to “go out west and see the country “.   Who hasn’t shared this sentiment at one time or another?
Deep down, On The Road is a brilliant commentary on this youthful wanderlust, and it is a book with a serious message for people who see travel as a redemptive, life-defining exercise.  Kerouac’s astonishing literary style will keep you glued throughout – the entire book was composed in one breathless three-week writing binge, lending it a hyperkinetic, immediate quality that few other writers can match.  Get it from the library now.

The Republic – Plato
You can’t call yourself a university graduate if you haven’t read the Republic.  Period.  Plato’s masterpiece is not only the foundation-stone of Western philosophy, but also a stunning work of literature in which Plato shows his full range as a writer.  The Republic is presented as a dialogue between Socrates and a series of interlocutors, as they attempt to devise the perfect state.  Plato, a staunch critic of democracy, suggests that states ought to be governed by “philosopher-kings” rather than the uneducated, ill-informed masses.  The book is timeless, and its criticisms of democracy are as relevant today as they were in the 4th century BC.
One of the most amazing things about the Republic, though, is just how many intellectual fields it covers.  Plato touches on epistemology, ethics, political theory, criminology, gender studies, the nature of the self, and even poetry.  For students of almost any discipline, the Republic has something to say.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If nothing else, read it for its literary value.  One Hundred Years of Solitude is a stunning achievement, utilizing Marquez’s famous “magical realism” style to wonderful, and haunting, and beautiful, and creepy, effect.  The novel follows the Buendia family through several generations in the Latin American village of Macondo, which Marquez uses as a microcosm of Latin America as a whole.
One Hundred Years of Solitude carries with it a great, majestic sense of tragedy.  Again and again, we see the Buendias – and by extension, Latin Americans as a whole – repeat the same mistakes, constantly tearing Macondo apart with strife.  Marquez’s masterpiece is a powerful statement on the nature of history and the need for mankind to grab a firm hold of our destiny.

Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky (originally a linguist, of all things) is renowned as the USA’s foremost dissident, and Manufacturing Consent is his most famed work.  The book is based around the idea that the mass media are invariably led to deceive us: they must show the government and corporations in a good light, or else they risk losing their advertisers or access to information.
Chomsky therefore argues for the existence of a massive “politico-media complex”, where the media, politicians and corporations are all in cahoots in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of way.  Needless to say, Manufacturing Consent is a must-read for any up-and-coming young social critic, and an incisive critique of the role of mass media in a capitalist system.

The Age of Reason – Jean-Paul Sartre
Sartre is known more for his philosophical works than his novels, but The Age of Reason manages to be both.  The book spans three days in a sweltering 1930s Paris summer, as the city swings and buzzes to the rhythms of dance and debate.  Mathieu Delarue is a philosophy professor who needs to procure an abortion for his mistress.   Over the course of the novel, we follow him as he is forced to make tough decisions and take a hard look at himself and his life.
Sartre shows us, slowly, painfully, how freedom suffocates Mathieu – lacking direction, the multitude of choices available to him is also his downfall.  Anyone who has found themselves lost and wondering which path to take should read this book.

The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Definitely the most influential written work of the last two hundred years, and one of the most influential ever.  Written by the famous Karl Marx and his comrade Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto is a blueprint for a new type of society without the rampant exploitation that Marx saw in the Europe of his day.
Why is it required reading for uni students?  Apart from allowing you to more easily conform to the cool-hip-socialist-Guevara-student stereotype which pervades campuses, The Communist Manifesto is essential for understanding the social and economic upheavals of the last 150 years.   Labour unions, political parties, economic theorists, environmentalists, civil rights movements – all of these owe a debt to the egalitarian ideas which Marx lays out in the Manifesto.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Every year we are inundated with more inane reality TV shows, celebrity news, sexualised marketing, and other hedonistic trivialities.  And every year, with these, Brave New World becomes more and more relevant.   Huxley’s brilliant dystopian novel is a dire warning about societies which allow themselves to be consumed by the seeking of pleasure.
While comparisons are frequently drawn with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is really Brave New World has more to say about our modern world.  Neil Postman famously wrote that “in 1984… people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.  Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture… reduced to passivity and egotism.”
Whoa, Jersey Shore is on!   To hell with books.  See ya.

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