Desert Island Reads

We asked our students for their recommended reads to take with you on study abroad. These were some of their responses:

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A funny, sad and sweet book that gives a small window into life as a black, female ‘immigrant’ in America. Beautifully written and challenges a lot of preconceptions people probably don’t even realise they have; all should read.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

It’s funny and witty. I think it’s relevant to my year abroad because it follows a man who travels to different planets and has amazing experiences, but still misses home.

“The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird” by Tom Michell

It’s a very funny & heartwarming book, set in Argentina. I could relate to the many hurdles an expat faces in a new country and also found myself falling in love completely with the characters. This book sparked my wanderlust and made me want to experience South America in the same way the author did – penguin companion included.

“Thomas Jefferson: Author of America” by Christopher Hitchens

Interesting read. Provides a history lesson and a drama all in around 200 pages. Also relevant to how we get the America we see today.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

It’s heart breaking but beautiful at the same time – that’s the best way I can think of to describe it.

“I Write What I Like” by Steve Biko

A book by one of the foremost figures in South Africa’s ongoing liberation, starts to bring in ideas of black consciousness. The book was published shortly after his murder in custody.

Key for anyone coming to South Africa/interested in black consciousness, to understand how South Africa should better move forward with current issues concerning racism and liberation.

“A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin

One book I took with me on my year abroad to Japan was A Game of Thrones, the first volume of George R R Martin’s series A Song Of Ice and Fire. I’d heard a lot of good things about the book series and was eager to discover another fantasy world. Also, the area I went to in Japan was known to get very snowy and cold in winter, so I thought it would be ideal to read about snowy Westeros at the same time. As I’m a very slow reader, I unfortunately still haven’t finished it, but thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve been able to read so far.

“Jasper Jones” by Craig Silvey

I would not have brought this book with me on a year abroad but I picked it up since. It’s a great Australian read and a I thoroughly enjoyed it. A coming of age classic, the book touches upon issues of racism towards Indigenous Australians and Vietnamese during the time of the Vietnam war. It’s funny, clever and a brilliant story around Australian life (I thought at least). A film has just been made based on the book by a great Aussie filmmaker which I am yet to see but it’s got great reviews too.

“Green Mile” by Stephen King

I brought Stephen King’s ‘Green Mile’ with me on my year abroad, as I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie, and I want to read as many of King’s books as possible. I’ve only managed to make it halfway through, but it’s good so far!

“The New York Times: 36 Hours in Europe” by Barbara Ireland

My parents gave this beautiful book to me as a leaving present before I embarked on my year abroad. Though possibly the most impractical book to carry around, I have hauled this detailed tome with me everywhere I’ve been over the year and I will definitely treasure it once I return to Leeds. It is hands down the best travel guide I’ve ever had; covering well known capitals as well as lesser known towns, it is ideal for time and cash-strapped students. The NY Times have also published editions for the US & Canada, Latin America and Asia & Australia so I urge anyone going on a year abroad in the future to take one with them!


“The Rape of Nanking” by Iris Chang

The telling of a true holocaust that everyone hides from history. It’s a hard read and some of the things that happened will give you nightmares (the Nazis themselves where horrified by what happened) but it’s an important book to read, just have something happy you can occasionally jump to when it gets too much!

“A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas

The book I would take with me on my year abroad would be ‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ by Sarah J. Maas. It is the second book in her A Court of Thorn and Roses series, and unlike most sequels, is even better than the first. Maas creates a world that is vibrant and compelling, with characters I love, hate, hate to love and love to hate. When I first started reading it, I literally could not put it down until I had finished it, causing me to spend the entire day reading it. I’d take it on my year abroad as I feel like every time I would re-read it, I’d discover something I had previously missed. It would also keep me going until Book 3 comes out…

“Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis

An inspiring book about social movements and their constant struggles.

“The Shack” by William P. Young 

It’s a fiction book which personifies God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God is this big Black mamma and Jesus is this cool chilled guy and the Holy Spirit is a Thai young woman. They all reside in what was first a dirty old shack where a murder of a young girl happened, yet they redeem the place, making into a beautiful home. It sounds naff, but it’s a really enchanting and talks about some really big topics in a really lovely way.

“I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes

This thriller is a book I wish I could read for the first time all over again. It constantly keeps you gripped with its twists and turns, never leaving you bored.

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

An amazing milestone in African Literature. Set during the late 19th century, the ‘scramble for Africa’ is underway, with European colonial powers carving up the continent between them. The novel follows a tribesman in Nigeria as the influence of Colonialism seeps into his society that has been unchanged for centuries. This growing influence slowly deteriorates the bonds holding the tribes together, hence the title of this novel.

“A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking

I first read this book before entering university and it has really sparked my curiosity about the universe.

“The Nature of Blood” by Caryl Phillips

I’m doing a module on Shakespeare’s Othello here in Italy and we’ve been asked to read this book alongside it as part of the module, as in the book Phillips modernises Othello and gives the perspective of Othello himself. It’s a beautifully written book and draws on Othello, the concentration camps of WW2 and the war over the land of Palestine. It draws on the theme of outsiders and is such a beautifully written book. The ability of the author to change depending on character, and the concentration needed to follow the ever changing storyline makes it really gripping and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in history.

“The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” by Vincent B Leitch

After all, I might need a doorstop in Australia, or some wisdom!

“Ariel” by Sylvia Plath

To remind myself that even when your life feels like a nightmare, something beautiful can come from that.


What would you take with you?


Recommendations from James Bucag, Clarissa Ducie, Abi Meakins, Rebecca Miller, Alex Millward, Elizabeth Mudie, Jamal Nawaz, Rebecca Noble, Olivia Pike, Kate Price, Rufus Shakespeare, Jessica Shields, Chloe Smith, Isobel Taylor-Herbert, Annabelle Tipples, Rachel Turner, Julian Vallender and Jess Williams


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