College is a beast unique to itself.
It holds much of the trappings of grade school while adding the stress of the ever-present knowledge that what you’re doing now will directly affect the rest of your professional life.
Each new year brings the promise of stress, anxiety, victory, drama, discovery and even heartbreak, all of which swirl together to create a torrent of emotion and friction.
Books have taught me some of the greatest lessons of my life and the right book at the right time can be just what you need to get through a particular challenge.
Below, I’ve organized a custom list of books to offer the perfect mix of college-relevant wisdom and lessons. Whether you’re a college freshman or are in your final year, the books below can help make the year ahead your best yet.
There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.
– Walt Disney
Here are ten books all college students should read before setting off into the world.
The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama
And before you offer a smart ass remark about the hells of college crunch time, know that the suggestions within the pages of the book are probably unlike anything you’d expect.
The Art of Happiness is great for the college student who needs a little perspective shift as well as tips for dealing with the stress and anxiety that comes with college studies.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim is a short book about a medieval studies professor and his journey to procur tenure at a university. It’s a rare look into the life of a professor from their perspective that offers all kinds of insights that can be useful to know as a student.
Lucky Jim is great for learning more about a professor’s life and, as a result, having compassion for them and a deeper understanding of what they go through as people.
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Portrait of a Lady is the first of two books on this list that are great for helping the average college student along the journey to find themselves.
It’s about a woman’s quest to explore the world and, in turn, find herself. The questions posed are particularly relevant to the young college student still finding themselves (as most of us are).
Let’s face it, while some enter college knowing full well what they want to do with their life, major set in stone, many don’t and are still figuring it out as they go. Maybe that’s you.
And even still many who are sure of what they love to do are unsure of other things and still very much in the thick of that familiar but unsettling journey to self-discovery.
If that’s you, this is a great book to read at any point, especially when you’re in college.
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
The Innocents Abroad was one of Mark Twain’s most popular books while he was still alive and it chronicles his own adventure of self-discovery (very much like The Alchemist author Paulo Coelho’s recent Hippie).
A great book for self-discovery, especially the kind that so defines college-era years, as well as for those who are, or are planning to, study abroad.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
The Idiot tells the story of a college student, Selin, attending a fictional Harvard in 1995. It’s all about falling in love and finding oneself– and one’s flaws– through the infatuation with another.
It’s an incredibly insightful story that can help guide your potential romantic experiences throughout college, offering a wise, tough, but loving voice.
The Idiot is great for learning more about how love affects us and what it says about us in turn, especially during college.
Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat
The Indian bestseller Five Point Someone tells the story of a group of friends at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India. The book reflects on the challenges of wrestling with studies while simultaneously trying to fit in.
Five Point Someone is great for navigating the stresses of academic study and keeping the right perspective throughout the year.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl is about a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Cath, and her struggles through college. Between fights with her sister and writing professor, social challenges, and the overwhelming nature of the college institution itself, she has her work cut out for her from the very beginning.
Fangirl is great for college freshman and anyone experiencing similar college-related challenges.
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
I Am Charlotte Simmons is a story about what happens when college threatens to make you forget who you are. A young student Charlotte at a fictional Dupont University is immediately faced with challenges when the social environment at the school is anything like she imagined.
With classmates more concerned about the social heirarchy than their own grades Charlotte is sucked into a foreign environment and forced to face questions of who she is and what really matters to her.
I Am Charlotte Simmons is great for when college life sweeps you away and threatens to make you forget who you really are.
Teaching to Transgress By Bell Hooks
Teaching to Transgress is a non-fiction book about the power of education while simultaneously calling into question the structure of traditional institutions. It will make you question– or bring into focus– your views of education and help you further improve your own college experience in ways that are hard to describe.
Teaching to Transgress is great for giving you a new perspective on education and enhancing your learning experience.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Few books I believe should be required reading for every college student. For as much as one person’s advice is worth, in my opinion, this is one of those books.
A Short History of Nearly Everything is great for two reasons. First, it gives you just that: a concise history of nearly everything we know about, well…everything. It’s especially useful for bringing you up to speed on scientific matters, which is incredibly useful for several majors.
However, what really makes this book great is author Bill Bryson’s way of breaking things down in a simple, straightfoward, and funny way. It’s a delight to read when really the subject matter could have been a complete bore.