11 literary classics to ‘casually’ name-drop this semester
WORDS BY JACK ANDREW-KABILAFKAS
It’s the beginning of a new semester and let me tell you: this is 2016 at Sydney University and nothing is more impressive than someone who has the time management skills to read broadly despite their crazy uni schedule. Well OK, many things may be, but not to that kid who sits in the front of your tutorials every week feverishly taking notes. Trust me, you’re going to want to work with them as that group-project deadline approaches. The best way to get that to happen? Impress them, casually, with your ‘literary prowess’.
If you’re not as up to date on classic novels as you want to be, but are hoping to make yourself look more together and organised that you actually are this semester, here are eleven books to casually drop into conversation. Oh, plus a few wanky one-liners about each drafted for you in advance. Get memorising.
11. DUNE, FRANK HERBERT
Synopsis: A sci-fi classic set on the planet Arrakis that explores the human condition, planetary ecology and gender through a monomyth style storyline of politics and magic.
One-Liner: “The backstabbing and political manoeuvring of Dune reminds me of AusPol at the moment, what do you think?”
10. THE PRINCE, NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI
Synopsis: A foundational text of political science that sets out how to govern as a prince and what you can and cannot do. Although as long as survival is the goal, pretty much anything is allowed.
One-Liner: “I like to take Machiavelli’s advice on managing people when working on group assignments”.
9. THE STRANGER, ALBERT CAMUS
Synopsis: Guy doesn't cry at mother's funeral, "accidentally" shoots a guy because he couldn't see because it was too sunny, gets sentenced to death because he's not an outwardly emotional guy.
One-Liner: “Sometimes when I look at my bank account I feel exactly like Meursault in The Stranger you know?”
8. THE ODYSSEY, HOMER (NOT FROM THE SIMPSONS)
Synopsis: Ancient Greek hero on his way back from the Trojan War is beset by many monsters and complications. Written in the epic poem form.
One-Liner: “I really identify with the Odysseus’ trials through my attempts to get equal distribution of group work”.
7. THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, RAY BRADBURY
Synopsis: An anthology of short stories surrounding colonising Mars and philosophical questions about humanity as well as colonialism and environmentalism.
One-Liner: “Bradbury really delivered on that unique blend of magical realism, science-fiction and philosophy that he does so well”
6. CLOUD ATLAS, DAVID MITCHELL
Synopsis: Six interweaving plot lines that explore themes of freedom and interconnectedness as well as genre and literary styles.
One-Liner: “I thought the meta-narrative was really well executed and added meaning to connections across the various storylines”.
5. THE RABBITS, THE RED TREE, THE ARRIVAL (OR PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING BY SHAUN TAN)
Synopsis: Slightly creepy picture books that are definitely not aimed at children. Deal with topics of exclusion, refugees and colonialism.
One-Liner: “I was looking through books from my childhood the other day and found my entire collection of Shaun Tan, there’s just so much meaning there to be found”.
4. ‘1984’, GEORGE ORWELL
Synopsis: The original dystopian text-- a guy tries to rebel against the extreme nanny-state but ends up brainwashed back to “normality”.
One-Liner: “The university’s restructure of student privacy makes me feel like I’m in George Orwell’s ‘1984’.”
3. THE LITTLE PRINCE, ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY
Synopsis: Pilot crashed in the desert meets small child/prince fallen from an asteroid. Technically a children’s book, but full of insights and reflections on the human condition, love and creativity.
One-Liner: “I read it first in English, but then in French because you know, the original is always better”.
2. A LITTLE LIFE, HANYA YANIGHARA
Synopsis: Follows the lives of four young New York creatives, the main one of which was sexually assaulted as a child. Insights into success, love, grief and complex and modern relationships.
One-Liner: “I’ve pretty much read my way through most of the classics, so I picked up this new book when I was just browsing the bookstore the other day and I really think it’s a contender for the Man Booker this year.”
1. ULYSSES, JAMES JOYCE
Synopsis: Stream of consciousness novel that flits through multiple styles throughout its 18 chapters. The book recounts hour-by-hour events of one day in Dublin – June 16, 1904 – as Leopold Bloom makes his way through the urban landscape, the odyssey of a modern-day Ulysses. Every year over 60 countries celebrate ‘Bloomsday’ to commemorate the book.
One-Liner: “I have a long train ride to uni so I’ve been taking my copy of Ulysses with me for some light reading”.
Your Resident Enthusiastic Book Connoisseur: Jack.