Let us introduce “ourshelves”

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 23 April 2015. It was one half of an article I co-wrote with my fellow editor Marcus (you can find the original here). The editors’ column was originally going to be a weekly feature, but we only ever wrote two – there just wasn’t room with all the article we were publishing, and due to some format changes it ended up being dropped. Still, it was good fun, and I recommend checking out Marcus’s blog.

A new university term means a new editorial team at The Oxford Student. To make things more creative, we have chosen five books from our shelves that characterise us:

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This is quite simply the best comic novel in English, bar none. The sheer force and volume of ideas this novel throws at its reader was enough to lift my adolescent head off, and in many ways I’m still reeling from the shock. And if there’s a single character who embodies my general outlook on life, it’s Arthur Dent.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. If there is a single novel I can point to and say, ‘This is the reason I decided to study English’, this is it. Cloud Atlas is a work of mad genius, weaving together six totally different stories panning multiple continents, time periods and literary genres, but what’s most amazing is that all of it fits together perfectly. If Mitchell can be this clever and also this entertaining, there really is no excuse for the rest of us.

3. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I’m not sure it’s actually possible for a play to be more fun than this. Reading the part of Algernon in A-level English class was a formative experience. The sheer joy of the whole thing pretty much single-handedly ended a prolonged period of extremely tiresome teenage angst, and set me on the straight and narrow path marked ‘if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right’. I cannot think of a better role model than Algernon Moncrieff. Well, I can, but I defy you to come up with a funnier one.

4. The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson. A tutor once asked me why I used so many dashes in my essays. I felt terribly embarrassed and mumbled something about not being able to organise my thoughts properly. The real answer is that I read too much Emily Dickinson. Actually, scratch that. You can never have too much Emily Dickinson. Despite what some naysayers may tell you, you will not find a more joyful poet.

5. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Another one read at a formative age. In some ways a conventional love story, in others a wonderfully witty and subversive take on the genre, this novel reduced me to a blubbering wreck at the tender age of seventeen. This is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

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