Mostly, I just get moths in my stomach – like butterflies, but of a more ominous nature.Emily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

Like many of you reading this, still suffering in the library when everyone else seems to have been doused in Cava and granted their freedom, I’m still in the middle of exams, and I guess I’ve been pretty stressed. At least that’s what my subconscious has been telling me. For most of my life I thought I was that rare breed: someone who doesn’t manifest their stress in any obvious way. I don’t cry. I don’t panic. I don’t vomit like my friend Anaïs. I don’t drop off the face of the Earth (last week, I was giving my friend a taste of his own medicine called the Silent Treatment, but had to give up the charade after a few days when he literally did not notice). My emotions are fairly in stasis. Mostly, I just get moths in my stomach – like butterflies, but of a more ominous nature.

“It seems with age one’s bad-dream machine ups the ante”

That was what I thought – until last week, when I had a three-day, back-to-back visit from the Nightmare Man. Three nights straight, I was plagued by the most suffocatingly harrowing, viscerally vivid, and uncharacteristically coherent bad dreams. I’m talking about nightmares that have you protesting and crying in your sleep. We all have a nightmare Hall of Fame – my most recent inductee was the chilling Bull Attack Dream of ’09. That was the latest big one until last week, when it was supplanted by the Murdered Loved One Dream. It seems with age one’s bad-dream machine ups the ante.

In any case, I thought it only appropriate for this week’s recommendations to be related to the nightmarish existence of student life, in all of its manifest forms.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky just has to be my first recommendation. Raskolnikov is, of course, literature’s most iconic desperate and depressed student. At the end of his wick, yet swollen with egotism (sound familiar?), Raskolnikov kills time on the streets of St. Petersburg, before committing an actual killing. What follows is a brilliant exploration of morality and guilt, expressed by the ominous nightmares offered forth by Raskolnikov’s plagued psyche. In one of his nightmares, Raskolnikov witnesses the public beating and killing of an old, tired horse. In another, he relieves his senseless attack and murder of the elderly pawnbroker. In this way, the cat-and-mouse game of suspense at the centre of the novel takes on another facet. It was an understanding expertly utilised by Dostoevsky, later elaborated on by Freud, and finally capitalised on by Freddy Kreuger: where do you run when you’re a victim of sleep?

“It perfectly captures that isolating sense felt after the first year spent truly alone”

On a lighter note, The Idiot by Elif Batuman portrays the challenges of student life as most of us know it. I was gifted this novel by a dear friend of mine when we were in the early days of our courtship. She had asked me if I’d read it, and I’d confessed I hadn’t – though I’d known I would love it (not confirmation bias, but instead a keen and unerring sense of my own good taste). Selin, the protagonist, describes her first humiliating, lonely, banal year at Harvard with disturbing relatability. She’s confused by her course, suffers from unrequited love, and is hardly ever cool. It perfectly captures that isolating sense felt after the first year spent truly alone and that seismic shift in your internal landscape that is undeniable yet so difficult to articulate.


Mountain View

The Reading List: It's Pulitzer Season

Finally, Normal People by Sally Rooney. Now, I’d say that this is actually a half-recommendation. This novel is similar to a Rosemary’s Baby situation, in which the original text, and the adaptation, mirror one another so closely that it’s almost unnecessary to indulge in both. So, if you’ve watched the show, you needn’t rush to read the book. But if you’ve been living under a rock, certainly start with the source material! For anyone wondering why I’m recommending this, a novel about a young, modern relationship that is at times comforting and stifling, leaving an indelible impression on the characters (and the reader), I ask you this: what is more nightmarish than to be known?

In these recommendations I hope to offer a modicum of relief to the weary student – you come from a long line of tortured, disillusioned, and troubled scholars. Whether it be your moral failings, academic insecurities, or unknowable peers, someone’s been there before – and written about it for our pleasure!