10 Books Every College Freshman Should Read

08/30/2013 03:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 03, 2013
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You've tackled Huck Finn, "The Hunger Games," and a bit of Shakespeare, but are you ready for Marx, Derrida, and Joyce (not to mention football season and dorm food)? It's no secret that high school doesn't always adequately prepare students for college, emotionally or academically. Our solution, obviously, is to read more books.

300 American colleges seem to agree, as they've begun assigning a single book for their students to read before entering, regardless of their major. Common titles include "The Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" by Wes Moore, and other such topical stories. Very few classics were selected, and we think that's a shame. Nothing against Skloot and Moore, of course - We just believe timeless stories offer students context for whatever path they embark on.

Here are the 10 books we think every college freshman should read:


"The Body" by Stephen King

King's adventure story veils a deeper message about our childhood homes and childhood friendships. His take on nostalgia and growing up is sure to comfort anyone leaving home for the first time. Plus, it's simply an outstanding thriller. King writes, "I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being. It happened in the summer of 1959-a long time ago, but only if you measure in terms of years. I was living in a small town in Oregon called Castle Rock. There were only twelve hundred and eighty-one people. But to me, it was the whole world."


"Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis

Amis's cult classic is one of his quickest and wryest reads, and is a big hit among fans of British humor. It chronicles a medieval studies professor's ridiculous pursuit for tenure, and the even more ridiculous academics he meets along the way. It may be a hit among grad students, but undergrads will benefit from it too, if only because it proves that professors are people, too.


"Against Interpretation" by Susan Sontag

Sontag urges a more sensual, primal way of viewing and understanding art and literature, which could be pretty refreshing amidst reading Marx, Freud, and other defenders of staunch stodginess. She writes, "It was from a weekly visit to the cinema that you learned (or tried to learn) how to strut, to smoke, to kiss, to fight, to grieve. Movies gave you tips about how to be attractive (...). But whatever you took home from the movies was only part of the larger experience of losing yourself in faces, in lives that were not yours - which is the more inclusive form of desire embodied in the movie experience. The strongest experience was simply to surrender to, to be transported by, what was on the screen."


"Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James

James's story about an idealistic, curious young woman's attempt to explore the world via books and travel is certainly relatable to college students, and it's full of clever guidance. Writes James in one passage, "What do you call one's self? Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into everythng that belongs to us - and then flows back again. (...) One's self - for other people - is one's expression of one's self; and one's house, one's clothes, the books one reads, the company one keeps - these things are all expressive.” If these aren't the observations of a young liberal arts major, we're not sure what is. If anything, the tragic ending can serve as a sort of warning sign.


"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens

Another coming-of-age story, this book speaks of wealth, poverty, love, and loss. Sure, it explores the same Dickensian themes as the author's other stories (that good ol' "man versus society" conflict you learned about in high school), but the cast of characters is interesting enough to make the pages fly by.


"The Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri's Pulitzer-winning short story collection is about Indians and Indian-Americans torn between their cultural heritage and the Westernized world. She explores relationships with friends, loved ones and acquaintances met through travel.


"Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace

Wallace's essays are a perfect introduction to thinking critically. He doesn't just dissect Dostoyevsky - he also turns a discerning eye towards John McCain's presidential campaign, the O.J. Simpson trial, and, you guessed it, lobsters. Who knew criticism could be so fun?


"A Lover's Discourse" by Roland Barthes

Like Wallace's collection, Barthes's insight into the language of love is a great introduction to critical thinking, and it's about a topic we ALL are interested in. Even Madeleine in Jeffrey Eugenides's "The Marriage Plot," who loves reading but loathes anything post-Victorian, is glued to this quick read.


"Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke

These 10 letters written from Rilke to, well, a young poet (Franz Xaver Kappus, 19 at the time), offer poignant advice on art, but also on life in general. Rilke's tips, laden with emotions, read like John Green quotes from grown ups. Writes Rilke, "Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."


"The Innocents Abroad" by Mark Twain

The chronicling of what Twain called his "pleasure excursion" was actually the bestselling book of his lifetime. He discusses the cultures he encounters, from Marseilles to Odessa, both playfully and seriously. What better way is there to prepare for studying abroad than by brushing up on America's greatest satirist?

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