A reader’s guide to surviving first term


Michaelmas is the term of new beginnings. We welcome the crusade of Freshers, full of nervous excitement for their first taste of independence. Returning second and third years, who await with anticipation what their course has in stall for them this year with the knowledge that ‘it’s only going to get harder.’ The fourth years begrudgingly exchanging the sunshine of their year abroad destinations with that North-East chill. Years of more academic enrichment now lies ahead for masters and PhD students.

And with the leaves changing colour as they lie crisp on the ground, the shorter days and longer nights calling for candles and fairy-lights, it is the perfect season to curl up with a good book, especially when the deadlines start piling up. Starting university or readjusting back into the long days and late nights lifestyle can be daunting, so we’ve called on our favourite fictional friends and non-fiction know-alls to help you conquer your first term. Whether you’re a Fresher or PhD student, arts of STEM, whether you frequently find yourself stumbling home from Jimmies or prefer afternoons with a coffee in Flat White, this guide has got you covered.

“it is the perfect season to curl up with a good book, especially when the deadlines start piling up”

Leaving Home – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

So perhaps leaving home for university may not be equivalent to leaving Earth for space exploration. I will, however, maintain there are certain overlaps. For example, much like a space fleet of Vogons, an English student will at some point attempt to torture you by reading you their poetry. St Cuthbert’s college drink “the Frog” closely resembles what I imagine a “Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster” to taste like and, much like Ford Prefect, you will consume one too many during freshers week.Coming to Durham new opportunities are opened up to us, helping us to realise that the world may really be as expansive and unbound as the world that Adams creates here. Bonus points for having an audio book narrated by Stephen Fry, which you can pop on your headphones on route to the TLC.

Friendship – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

University isn’t just to expand our academic knowledge and capabilities. It’s also to expand our circle and meet people with whom we never would have otherwise interacted. Eleanor Oliphant is that person. Quirky, eccentric and heart-warming, she makes unexpected friendships which are as strong and loving as those you will make alongside those you will be performing off-key karaoke with in your college bar. Championing friendships which are non-judgemental, open and supportive, Gail Honeyman candidly shows how the strongest relationships are formed in times of uncertainty and vulnerability, providing a blueprint to the early days of university life. Eleannor’s most important relationship is, undoubtedly, with her cat “Glen”, which all students with a beloved pet at home will understand.

Romance – Read me like a book by Liz Kessler

This underrated novel has made it as my romance novel for Michaelmas, not simply because the romance is heart warming. From the moment  the protagonist, Ashleigh, meets Miss Murray, her journey is one of self discovery, change and acceptance. This is a key, but daunting, part of university, and this book beautifully tackles it with humour and a message of self love. Kessler reassures us that  if we can stand beside people who help us come to terms with, accept and be comfortable in our true selves, this is where strong foundations are built.

Self Growth and discovery – Mort by Terry Pratchett

Whilst Mort takes the route of an apprenticeship as opposed to University, his relationship to his new boss, Death, does often embody that of a student and their frustrated supervisor. Much like the Durham student who dared to leave Surrey for the unchartered North, Mort travels to new lands and develops new skills. Pratchett’s transportive worlds are places into which we can immerse ourselves when we’re looking for some escapsism deep in the chaos lectures, socials and deadlines. However, travelling with Mort on this new journey, this novel also spotlights the importance of leaving your comfort zone, trying new things and the potential for growth that comes with this; indeed, this is a novel that welcomes change in all its bizarre manifestations. And even in this fantastical realm, Death and Mort could still have a place in the Durham bubble – they would undoubtedly be members of Durham’s Curry Club, a must join for any fresher.

“they would undoubtedly be members of Durham’s Curry Club, a must join for any fresher.”

For academic weapon motivation – Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I see your eyes glazing humanities students. But this multimillion bestseller has something for every reader: complex characters, mystery, and a satisfying ending. This novel offers escapism for when your actual labs are getting you down, and Elizabeth’s Zott’s tenacity will have you picking up your flashcards even the morning after a Sunday Night Klute. However, aside from the science, this is novel which centralises an unconventional protagonist  who must battle against the unpredictabilities of life – we are all Elizabeth Zott and can use to her to not only broaden our minds, but challenge ourselves and others to question injustices and face the trials and tribulations of the everyday head-on. When Elizabeth said ‘Your ability to change everything – including yourself – starts here,’ she unknowingly uttered the emblem of Freshers’ Week.

For when you just need to escape fresher’s week – Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Whether a Fresher or Returner, starting University can be the most overwhelming week of your life. Surrounded by new people in a strange place, it’s important to take time to decompress. Tomi Adeyemi’s world building skill in this fantasy novel will have you escaping on a whole different kind of adventure. With a plot that will have you struggling to put this book down to make your seminars, and do your actual academic reading, this book is the perfect distraction for an overwhelmed student. The audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin, and some noise cancelling headphones are perfect for when you need a night away from your flatmates pres.

For when it feels dauntingly new – Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton Four friends, living togehter in a questionably small flat, who don’t really know what they’re doing with their lives, trying to get through each day and the trivialities encounter. Sounds like everything other house in the Viaduct, right? The world of Maggie, Birdy, Nell and Amara has been masterfully constructed by Dolly Alderton in this memoir, making it a vivid and relatable must-read for us university studnets taking each day as it comes and holding off entering the real world for another three years. Contrary to its title, Alderton celebrates the uncertainty of not-really-knowing, and in doing so reassuringly demystifies being in your early twenties. Artfully blending humour and frustration, moments of sadness and moments of madness, it is hard not to find friends in the characters of this book who are, just like us, struggling to find their place in the world but going through it anyway.

Image Credit: Abhi Sharma via Wikimedia Commons

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