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Reflecting on Summer Reading Favourites

Image courtesy of Epigram Arts

By Seb Davies, Third Year Philosophy

Seb spent this summer making the most of not being bound by reading lists, which seem to have taken us all by a strong hold now. Perhaps these two particular summer favourites will remind you what it felt like reading, and loving, something new over those longer days.

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
A focal novel of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac’s "On The Road" is a masterpiece that attempts to navigate a variety of themes within an ever-modernising America. Kerouac is not shy in his discussion of sex and drugs and the way in which they shape the individual’s experiences in their travels across America. We meet Sal Paradise, a young intellectual writer who surrounds himself in his home city of New York with other like-minded intellectuals. This is abruptly shaken up when we meet Dean, a troubled yet fascinating individual who has spent most of his life in and out of trouble, and ultimately jail. It is this clash of personalities that makes this book such a joy to read; learning how these two very different individuals navigate the scale of travelling the US, and how these experiences come to shape their personalities in very different ways. The way you feel as you read Sal, Dean and their many other friends travelling around the country is quite remarkable. Kerouac is a genius in the way he makes you want to just leave everything behind and go explore things you have never seen before. Based on his own experiences travelling with friend Neal Cassidy, Kerouac manages to perfectly capture the unpredictability and freedom that comes with travelling, and places it into a wonderful piece of literature. The erratic nature of the plot is certainly felt in how you read the book, and makes it challenging at points to fully know what is going on, and yet I think that only adds to the beauty of the novel. Much in the same way that I found Dean’s character to be very unlikable at points, it is how wild he is as a person that really makes "On The Road" a special novel to read.

"Nausea" by Jean Paul Sartre
Written in 1938, Sartre’s first novel is without a doubt the best book I have read for a very long time. The ability that Sartre has in being able to introduce such a moving theory, through the means of a fictional diary, is quite remarkable. Set in the fictional town of Bouville, we learn about the experiences of Antoine Roquetin through his diary. Carrying out his day to day life, he is plagued by a feeling that he terms ‘the nausea’, and we learn, through the diary mode, what this actually means to Antoine as well as the way in which he comes to terms with it. This book is without a doubt the perfect introduction to existentialism: the idea that we shape the meaning of our own existence, and yet we can also appreciate a beautiful piece of fiction at the same time. The beauty of Sartre’s writing, and philosophical novels in general, is you are free to take as much or as little from the meaning of the book as possible, and each time you come across this book, you take a little bit extra from it. That this book can be freeing to you as an individual is a credit which you cannot give to many novels. Learning how Antoine comes to terms with what his own existence means, and the way in which he can let that shape his life is no doubt what makes this a joy to read, and why I proudly tell people that there is no doubt it is one of the greatest novels I have ever come across.

Did any books make an impression on you over the summer?