5 Essential Dark Academia Books to Read

Deep Thinker Edition

Besides constant learning, one of the greatest joys of Dark Academia is reading books. While there is nothing wrong with audiobooks, and they can be pretty convenient, nothing beats reading a physical book. There is a sort of magic in holding a book in your hands, feeling the texture of the cover and the sound of the page-turning. In case you have never noticed before, books also smell very good. Go ahead, try it!

One of the many reasons I love bookshops (especially used ones) so much is the smell. There is something so cosy, snug, and utterly romantic about curling up with a good book, be it an old friend you know well or a brand-new acquaintance. Books are what bring our imaginations to life and make us think.  

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” -Meditations

1. Bibliomania by Gustave Flaubert (Bibliomanie was first published in Le Colibri magazine in 1837). It is a very interesting short novel and definitely a French classic, recounting the story of a Spanish monk with a dream of one day establishing his own library. The monk goes on to become a bookseller and rare antique dealer. He finds himself intoxicated by the smell of paper, the ink on pages, and the beautiful intricate gold detailing of the book covers. His arch-enemy is a man named Baptisto who also owns a book shop nearby and is just as passionate about finding bibliophilic treasures as the monk is. Slowly but surely, the monk’s obsession with books becomes manic, and he turns violent, stopping at nothing to get his hands on rare books.

This story is very short, something to read in one sitting. The novel is a comical tragedy but also seriously disturbing. While I do suffer from a mild case of bibliomania myself and seem to buy books faster than I can read, I’m not as bad as the poor monk. Whether you are obsessed with books or not, Bibliomania is the perfect pick for a Dark Academia moment.

“He was taciturn and a dreamer, sombre and sad. He had but one idea, but one love, but one passion: books. And this love, this passion burned within him, used up his days, devoured his existence.” -Bibliomania

In a letter to Louise Colet on January 16th, 1852, Flaubert wrote: “The finest works are those that contain the least matter; the closer expression comes through, the closer language comes to coinciding and merging with it, the finer the result.”

Such wise words and advice to aspiring writers as well. Even the late great Leonardo da Vinci once said simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. And that is exactly what this book is; simple and short, yet somehow it manages to tackle big questions and leave you thinking deeply long after you are done reading it.

It is noteworthy that Gustave Flaubert wrote this classic short story at the age of 14 (although inspired by an article about a bibliomaniac monk) and later wrote other masterpieces like Madame Bovary in 1856 and Sentimental Education in 1869. He was considered a leading novelist of literary realism. Highly influential, he is still today thought to be among the greatest Western novelists.

“My soul, will you ever be good, simple, individual, bare, brighter than the body that covers you? Will you ever taste the disposition to love and affection? Will you ever be complete and free of need, missing nothing, desiring nothing live or lifeless for the enjoyment of pleasure? -Meditations

2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a unique Classical literature work. It was originally written in Greek by a Roman emperor who did not intend his words to be published. The first printed edition published in 1559 was titled To himself, but today it is called Meditations. 

It is astounding to me how vigorously Marcus Aurelius seemed to seek self-improvement by reflecting on life and death, moral commitment, and despair. His journals clearly reveal that despite being born with high social status and power over nations, he still knew his shortcomings and sought to be a better man. This book is philosophical work of art and one of my favourite books. I cannot recommend it enough.

“A luminous body will seem more brilliant when it is surrounded by deeper shadow” The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

3. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo was a renaissance man best known as an artist, but he was also a scientist and an inventor. He is the man behind the iconic works of Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and Vitruvian man. In my opinion, his most interesting and certainly most revealing work can be found in his many notebooks. You can examine his many illustrations there but, most notably, enjoy his rich observations of man and nature.

Da Vinci was full of contradictions; he was a vegetarian who detested war, yet he designed military equipment. He is behind some of history’s most celebrated artworks, yet he was famous for often leaving his works unfinished. He rarely declared an artwork finished and was even in the habit of going back, fixing little details in pieces that were long done. One great example of this is the famous painting Mona Lisa, which according to Da Vinci, is not finished. 

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” -Meditations

4. Frankenstein By Mary Shelley is the perfect Dark Academia science fiction novel. It tells the story of a young but talented scientist called Victor Frankenstein. Through a scientific experiment, Victor creates a horrible creature he is so disgusted with he decides to flee, abandoning his newly made creation (such a douche move). The pair meet again later, but I will not detail the synopsis further in case you have not yet read this classic.

Frankenstein is a melancholy story that explores the subjects of guilt, abandonment, and forgiveness. It is a story of injustice that, at its core, poses the age-old question of what is it to be human. This is not an exciting book in the traditional sense of following an adventure of any kind. There are no horror or thriller elements. The text is dry-ish most of the time, and although it must have been awe-inspiring in its time, in today’s world, many of the concepts seem silly. However, you read this book for other reasons, not to be entertained but to think. To think deep stuff.

“How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!” -Frankenstein

5. The Holy Bible. You might be surprised as to why I chose to add The Holy Bible to this reading list, and let me start by saying that I’m not personally a Christian, and it also doesn’t matter whether you are either. Observed from an academic point of view (which is my angle), The Bible as a representative of Christianity, is one of the most significant reasons why our Western society is what it is today. 

Let us remember that before Christianity was introduced, the Christian way of thinking and living was not present in the Classical Greek world. Dark Academia lifestyle places a lot of its weight on studying classic Greek, including the time before Christianity and after. Whereas Christianity places its emphasis on right and wrong, the Ancient Greeks did not share this kind of thinking. Laws were observed, and morals were widely discussed and valued. However, their society was not built or based around one God. They did not believe that man should be humble or turn the other cheek. A man was celebrated for his strength and otherworldly abilities, physical and mental. For the ancient Greeks, there were multiple Gods who were flawed, just like man. Thus, man was not considered below the gods in the way it is thought of in Christianity. In Christianity, God is without flaws, although man was created in his image (oxymoron much?). 

To understand the ancient Greeks better, before and after Christianity, it is essential to read The Bible.

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