Let me introduce my shelf: The freshers guide

Packing, also known as Tetris with books...
Image credit: Miriam Joy

Let’s assume for the sake of this article that you’re like me. Your room at home is stuffed to bursting with books that you’ve already read, but can’t bear to get rid of, and others that you keep meaning to read, but you just can’t find the time to do so. Some are the most popular of young adult fiction, while others would make a Cambridge supervisor raise their eyebrows (even if these are usually of the unread variety, often with a bookmark after the first couple of chapters).

Now, you’re about to start at Cambridge, but before you can load up the car, you’ve got one last important decision to make: which books are you going to take? Everyone goes on and on about how busy you’ll be, but you can’t face the thought of leaving without any of those familiar spines to decorate your room. Even if you never get a moment to open them, it would be like leaving your children behind. (It’s okay. You can admit it. We’re all friends here.)

Everybody’s got their own tactic for narrowing it down, and I ease the stress of decisions by means of a library card for the Cambridgeshire library services and a Kindle. But although you should definitely sign up for the library, a Kindle isn’t the same as a bookshelf full of old friends, so when choosing which books to bring with you to university, here are a few categories that you might want to consider.

1. Books that are to blame for all this
Something got you into your subject, and it might well have been a book. Bringing these inspirational titles with you is great; theoretically, if you’re having a bad day, you can re-read them and remember why you fell in love with your course in the first place. For me, an ASNaC, it was The New Policeman by Kate Thompson and, later, Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater. This year I’m thinking of adding The Call by Peadar O’Guilin, because it’s exactly the kind of creepy fairy stuff that made me think medieval Irish was a sensible thing to study.

2. Books you've been meaning to read/re-read
After all, even if you’re only getting round to it because you’re procrastinating writing an essay, at least it’ll feel vaguely productive to tick them off that mental (or physical) list. This year I’ve got a bunch of 500+ page books that look impressive until you realise that their size is the main reason I haven’t read them yet, and I’m hoping to slowly work my way through that pile.

3. Books that never fail to cheer you up
In first year, I took Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (the funniest book about the apocalypse you’ll ever read) and Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud. Knowing I had these books with me in case of bad days was comforting in itself, and although I don’t think I ever ended up re-reading them, it was nice to have them there. 

4. Pretentious books to convince visitors you're clever
Let’s face it, everyone’s got a couple of highbrow reads or fancy editions they keep to make their shelves look intellectual. I’m unapologetically lowbrow about my fiction, but I did bring all those accumulated ASNaC-themed books I’d acquired over the years –only to discover that most of them weren’t all that useful. Nonetheless, they made for good shelf ornaments. 

5. A library card
I wasn’t kidding. If you booklovers do one thing in Freshers’ Week, head down to Cambridge Central Library and sign up. College libraries just don’t have the selection of light-hearted young adult fiction you’ll need if you get a bad case of freshers’ flu or your Netflix subscription runs out. I worked my way through the whole Percy Jackson series and most of Skulduggery Pleasant during first year (I told you I wasn’t highbrow), and had a great time doing so. Plus, there are two great things about library books: they’re free, and you don’t have to cart them home again at the end of term. Nailed it.

If you’re still undecided, play book Tetris with your luggage and hope that you don’t live at the top of a narrow college staircase. You probably won’t read them, but there’s nothing that makes your room look like home quite as much as a filled bookshelf. 

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