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Books, films and shows that changed the way we see the world

It’s a tough question, but when I asked people around Bristol University what the one book, film, or TV show that had changed how they see the world was, I was met with interesting and thought-provoking answers. Here are eight people’s thoughts on the pieces that they keep coming back to, can’t stop thinking about or that changed their way of thinking. Below are eight very meaningful recommendations.


On Beauty, by Zadie Smith; Ellie, Student.

This is such a good book that comments on race and adult relationships. It really investigated the tension in mixed race children between their ‘white side’ and their ‘black side’ and how sometimes the children seek to eliminate one of those sides in order to belong to one group completely. It also had a profound view on cheating: how you recover from it when you’re married and how you feel when you feel like a failure.

Band of Brothers (TV Mini-series); Alex, Student.

Watching Band of Brothers changed my entire perspective of World War Two, specifically on the courage, bravery and comradery of the men who fought. It multiplied my respect for their contributions to the world we live in today. Despite being phenomenal on a pure entertainment basis, the deeper messages are the most impressive element. Most memorably, the realistic battle scenes provided insight into fear and casualty that the soldiers faced, and the episode in which an extermination camp is found, where the pure shock at the loss of humanity during WW2, is so poignant. I usually re-watch the series at least once a year, and consider it essential viewing for anyone interested in WW2.

Light in August, by William Faulkner; Gbenga, Student.

Light in August made me think about race a lot because the main character is supposedly mixed-race in America in the 1930s – but it’s unconfirmed. The character simultaneously takes on all the features he associates with being black – which are all negative – but also rejects other African Americans, because he’s super racist.It made me think a lot about what constitutes “blackness”, if that’s something that even exists, and how a black identity is so forcefully constructed. Personally, that didn’t change the way I acted but it got me thinking about my place on the imaginary racial spectrum, especially in relation to other black people and how we are/aren’t connected.

American Honey (Film, 2016); Milla, Student.

I think about this film every day. It follows a young girl who runs away from home and travels across America with a travelling sales crew. It made me fall in love with life and I just felt happy after I finished the film. It’s a film that makes you want to cherish being young and it made me realise that you shouldn’t regret things because they’re often the things that make you what you are.

Also, How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff is a book I think about a lot. It’s the saddest book I’ve ever read. The book is about a devastating kind of love. I love books that make me feel sad, and I’ve read this one four times. This is the only book I’d save in a fire.

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque; Sophie, Student.

This might be controversial because I read a translation of All Quiet on the Western Front, so I didn’t get exactly what the author intended. However, the translation I read was very powerful. I know it’s a war novel so that’s perhaps a bit cliché, but it discusses war in a neutral manner which I hadn’t really encountered before. It’s focuses on the futility of the battle and fighting, and it breaks down the size and anonymity of war


Novel on Yellow Paper, by Stevie Smith; Jane, Retired Journalist

I read this as an undergraduate, at home during a long vacation. I was very restless at the time poised between academia and the world beyond and the hardest place to be was back in my childhood home. This book took me away from that, Pompey, the narrator, was a few years ahead of me, and her irreverence and freedom spoke to me, recognising the boredom of  working life. It influenced my decision to take a post-graduate course and build a career in journalism, however precarious it may be.

Girlboss (TV series); Lily, Student.

I’d just had a talk with my dad about getting a job when I started to watch the Netflix Original Girlboss. The protagonist is fired from all her jobs and uses her passion for vintage clothes to single-handedly set up her own business. I found her work ethic inspiring and the show very motivating. After watching just one episode I felt ready to get up off my arse and do something.

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys; Olivia, Student.

The heart-breaking forced marriage of Antoinette and Rochester in this prequel to Jane Eyre haunts me still. Having read Jane Eyre before, I was always troubled my Bertha Mason portrayed as the mad woman in the attic and how she was juxtaposed with Jane Eyre’s goodness and grace. Wide Sargasso Sea gives Antoinette/Bertha a history that punches out her unstoppable descent and powerlessness in a cruel and wrong marriage.  It taught me that people’s behaviour is pre-determined by many factors and these are hard-wired and absolute. It helped me walk away from bad relationships, rather than trying to fix the other person.

Freya McCoy

Bristol '20

Third Year at Bristol University studying English Literature.
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