During the vac, whether you’re bored out of your skull, or if you somehow have just as much to do as you did during term, you need an escape. Normally, I’d go see a friend, or watch a movie. But these days, I can’t get on a train to annoy my friend in Hull for a weekend, and watching a movie seems pointless when all I’ve done for the last year is sit on my laptop binging Riverdale. So it’s possible I’ll have to turn to the thing my degree is actually about – books. The horror.
And on horror, the first book I cannot stop recommending definitely knows how to leave a creeping sensation on the back of your neck. Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi isn’t a horror, but the confusion and strangeness of the fantasy world you are plunged into feels almost gothic. From the first page it feels like you have been thrown into another world, and another time, and as the novel continues, it only gets more confusing. It seems as if the world is a huge stately home, expanding in all directions and covering, as far as we know, the whole globe. The novel feels like wandering the halls of this place beside the narrator, being led down strange corridors into unusual rooms, and struggling to piece it all together. Our narrator does not know his purpose, or even who he is. He only knows one other person in the halls, who seems to be interested in anything from conquering Death to “reigniting the Sun and Stars.” Every person the narrator meets is slightly off, all feeling as if they have very different ideas and priorities – almost like every character in the book is from a different alternate universe. We don’t even know if we’re in a fantasy world, or if the narrator is insane. This is a book that leaves you confused and in awe, both at the plot, the worldbuilding, and the gorgeously meandering prose with which Clarke leads you through the beautiful but sinister halls of her novel.
For a very different vibe, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom is a celebrity memoir truly worth a read. Anyone who has seen Rachel Bloom’s show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will be well-prepared for her exact brand of self-deprecating, bizarre humour delving into, sexism, borderline personality disorder, and becoming a crazy cat lady. Rachel Bloom brings all the talent she brought to her show to this book, making you cry with her as she talks about her OCD and depression, before making you cackle so loudly you disturb everyone in your house as she makes a terrible joke about it. She holds nothing back, writing about the time when a popular kid in her middle school asked her out as a joke and her classmates were so horrified that they called her house to apologise for it. She even puts in the erotic poetry she wrote as a twelve-year-old – there’s a video of her dramatically reciting this poetry at her old middle school on her Instagram, which I highly recommend anyone to go watch.
This book feels like hanging out with your friend who you haven’t seen in a few months at a bar, sharing stories about men you’ve wasted time on, awful jobs you didn’t quit, and then trying to figure out why you took so much crap as you sit there together at nearly midnight drinking overpriced cocktails. But also, it’s like sitting alone in your room thinking about everything wrong with yourself, before deciding screw it, and distracting yourself by creating a theme park for adults. Which Bloom does in the book. It features the ‘Get Born’ Rapids simulating birth, Haruki Murakami’s Bumper Cars, and a haunted mansion in which you’re faced with the possibility of there being nothing after death. Hilarious and heart-breaking, this is a book you’ll read in a day.
For a sentimental throwback, I can never get enough of a good YA romance. Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss is arguably trash, but it’s also the exact brand of trash I always need. The novel follows Anna through her senior year of high school. She’s in love with a guy in her friendship group, Etienne. It’s a typical romance – girl moves to a new school, cute guy immediately falls for her, there’s friendship and relationship drama along the way. Oh, and it’s set in Paris. And sure, it’s kind of ridiculous in its self-indulgence: Anna is a film geek from Atlanta who doesn’t know how beautiful she really is, Etienne is simultaneously English and French for maximum Sexy Accent Potential, and the overarching plot is a little predictable. But that’s the joy of it. It’s self-indulgent, it gives you everything you want from your life but only ever see on TikTok. Who doesn’t want to fall in love with a boy watching movies in French cinemas together, and hang out with friends in the middle of the night at Père Lachaise Cemetery?
But it also deals with the awkwardness and confusion of being a teenager – from having a crush on your friend’s crush, to being there for your friend when their life is falling apart. This isn’t pure escapism, because the characters are real and messy. But they put in the effort to help each other, and chase their dreams. They put themselves out there and risk getting hurt.
These are very different books, but they all do what books need to do – they provide a way out from the spot we’re sitting in, into a world that isn’t our own. Whether that world is a fantasy universe, the life of a celebrity, or a dorm room in Paris, these very different books helped me to forget about everything in my life and create a new life in my head. I hope they do the same for you.