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28th September 2016

Books on new beginnings

Elizabeth Gibson recommends books to inspire and comfort, whether you are a newcomer to Manchester or a returning student

There’s a high chance that the upcoming opportunities and challenges associated with starting a new year at University is a major source of anxiety for most of The Mancunion’s readers. Maybe you’re just beginning your first year, a returning student moving into an unfamiliar locale, or even a new lecturer only now beginning to familiarise themselves with the University. Whichever walk of life you come from, facing a new academic year can be stressful and daunting period.

One way of finding some reassurance, is by checking out some literature that deals with new beginnings. It’s a subject that comes up time and time again—as humans we can find ourselves making mistakes and having to start over, or we may be just entering a new stage of our lives. Here are some books that epitomise this phenomenon and help to remind you that you are not alone in your struggles.

1)      Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery: This perennial classic not only tells a powerful story of building a fulfilling world for oneself from nothing, it is also pure comfort reading in terms of the joyous descriptions of the Canadian Maritimes in the late nineteenth century. Emily of New Moon, a lesser-known title by the same author, is darker but perhaps even more inspiring, and both books are remarkably forward-thinking in terms of gender relations for the time. Anne and Emily both consider careers and Emily makes real progress as a writer and journalist.


2)      The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer: Don not be deceived into thinking that because it has “School” in the title that this series is aimed at a younger audience. It is as much about the staff and families as the pupils, and deals with heavy topics such as serious illness, bereavement and international relations leading up to WWII. In The Chalet School in Exile, the School has to completely uproot itself from its home in Austria due to the Nazi invasion, and re-establish itself in the UK, which it does with incredible strength and humility. The novel was actually written at the time of the events and criticising Hitler was very dangerous; it must have taken real courage on the author’s part. This is a really important book that I feel everybody should read.


3)      Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote is a book—or, rather, two books—that many people probably mean to get around to reading but are slightly scared to begin. However, both halves of the story are accessible, fresh and still genuinely funny, four hundred years after they were written. Behind all the drama and pranks and songs and antics there is the solid and poignant tale of an ageing man who wants to do something different and a bit wild before his death, and of the farmer (Sancho) who has a dull life of physical toil ahead of him until he is whisked along on this adventure. Don Quixote is the very definition of timeless.


4)      The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah: Sophie Hannah’s crime novels are generally gritty and dark but with moments of humour and human warmth. The Point of Rescue is the third book in her Culver Valley series but can easily be read as the first. It is probably the best in terms of a slick mystery with a real “oh, of course!” moment, and in terms of new beginnings, it is important as it shows the main cops, Simon and Charlie, trying to find themselves again and work out their relationship following something unspeakably awful. It makes for a thrilling yet also moving read.

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