"If you could buy it in a clothbound classic edition, it almost certainly found its way into my room"Loveday Cookson with permission for Varsity

Step 1: Don’t.

If you’re anything like me, the act of packing your bookcase should take half an hour maximum, but usually turns into most of an afternoon spent trawling through shelves deciding what may grace your room for the term ahead. Packing, repacking, attempting to lift the box and realising there is absolutely no way you could carry that up four flights of stairs, vowing this term you may begin to exercise in the hope that moving will become somewhat less dramatic. But in all seriousness—packing up my bookcase is a slightly surreal experience, a stark reminder that I am actually moving again.

So having done it for the fifth time, I now feel I have the necessary experience—or rather, the misplaced confidence—to offer some words for those like me who are burdened by acute indecision.

Theoretically it’s simple: there are two categories, subject-related reading and ‘other.’ So my truly profound advice would be to prioritise space for term reading. For humanities students, making sure that you have everything you need initially can alleviate anxieties at the beginning of term, when Amazon and the libraries are desperately scoured to plug Week 1 essays.

“First year saw my bookshelves laden with classics—if you could buy it in a clothbound classic edition, it almost certainly found its way into my room”

Along with the necessary tomes, I pack dozens of non subject-related books, believing this may finally be the term I actually read for pleasure. So far I have been only partially successful in this mission, having staggered through only a handful of books in my ludicrous literary collection. In the interest of rising to the task of my English degree, Michaelmas of first year saw my bookshelves laden with classics: Jane Eyre, Hard Times, Emma—if you could buy it in a clothbound classic edition, it almost certainly found its way into my room.

In reality, reading the back of a cereal packet was about as much as my brain could handle under the weight of starting university.

Instead, I’ve found the best books to pack are the ones that you can dip in and out of. An easy plot and first-person narration often contributes to a more relaxed, chatty tone, which makes the solitary act of reading somehow feel less lonely. Another thing to keep in mind is there is no moral hierarchy to reading Beowulf versus Bridget Jones. Poetry anthologies similarly satiate the hunger for joyful reading that my degree doesn’t always satisfy, without the time that a novel demands. My current read is tinged with irony, an anthology of poems about the sea—a curious choice for the aggressively landlocked Cambridge. But something about its brevity and its contents feels liberating, a taste of a moment not overlooking a bus station, but instead of waves rushing in around my ankles.

“Bring books that make you feel fierce, or brave, or make you laugh after a long dark Lent day”

You can use your bookcase to mark the start of a new season, a new plot line or edition in the series of novels that make up your life. For my 18th birthday I was gifted a poetry anthology: She Will Soar, ‘Bright brave poems about escape and freedom by women,’ a profound vote of confidence in my ability and one that lived above my desk in first year. A year later I was given the sister volume She is Fierce, which stares back at me as I begin the second term of my second year. They have bookmarked the movement between these years and the evolution I and my bookcase have undergone. This change for me is grounded in the indulgence of a book-buying trip when I arrive, the new acquisitions finding a home among seasoned occupants. Sidney Street Oxfam bookshop or the Heffers secondhand section never fail to disappoint—the source of my edition of Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters while a Lent expedition offered me an old copy of Dubliners.


Mountain View

Faux books: harmless room décor or a crime against literature?

My biggest advice would be to bring books that make you feel fierce, or brave, or make you laugh after a long dark Lent day, or remind you of the people or places who do—books that make you feel like the warm waves are coming in. Perhaps I do need to be fierce, fierce enough to lug my myriad book boxes up the stairs for the start of a new term.