As a current college student, I have been in countless situations where I have wished that I read a certain book in high school. Whether it’s when I’m sitting in class and the professor references a novel or when I’m sitting with friends and everyone is joking about a character in the latest best-seller, I often wish I had taken the time in high school to read certain books in order to participate. Since coming to college, I’ve read one book each month to catch up, and it’s enriched my life deeply both socially and academically.
Here are the top 10 books that you will most definitely want to read before college:
1. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
One of the most topical books on this list, Sapiens is an easily digestible entry into the entire history of humankind for the average person. It divides human history into three chapters: the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, and the Scientific revolution. Simply put, the secrets of the world are contained in this novel, and it is no doubt a must-read.
2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
The former First Lady’s memoir tops every booklist of the past year and is featured in front of every bookstore in the country. Regardless of your political views, Michelle’s candid recount of her life from the Southside of Chicago to the White House is nothing short of inspirational. It’s a book I constantly see on bookshelves in peers’ dorm rooms.
3. 1984 by George Orwell
This prophetic and cautionary tale about the dangers of totalitarian regimes and intense government oversight is especially relevant in today’s political conversations. The novel features many concepts such as “Big Brother” and “thoughtcrime” that have been popularized into common usage. The novel’s ideas are particularly referenced by many professors, especially if you’re interested in philosophy or political science courses.
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Almost every single student I’ve met at college is well-versed in the tragic story of Jay Gatsby, and it’s likely because it’s a part of most high school curricula. I can’t count the number of times a friend has made a reference to the green light or a professor has talked about the American Dream. This inherently American novel is crucial to every student’s understanding of this country’s history and the struggle for upward mobility.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Some of the greatest American novels surround themes of race, discrimination, and historical tensions in the South. But by in large, this is the most commonly referenced of books with those themes, partly because it’s often featured in high school English classes and partly because of its warmth and humor.
6. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
This might seem like a no-brainer to most of you and it’s definitely very different from the rest of the books on this list, but I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with this fantastical series before heading to college. From Harry Potter-themed parties to late night conversations about which house you’d belong in, so many social functions rest on everyone’s collective knowledge of Harry Potter.
7. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
This book is a peek into sociological thought, which I firmly believe every student should have a responsibility to learn. It delves into the coincidental external factors that catalyze success in certain individuals, sending a message that success comes from not just hard work, but also luck. It’s a common novel read in many sociology courses and just referenced in everyday conversations as well.
8. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This is the novel on this list that contains the most literary value, as it’s packed full of literary devices and eloquent language. Centered around a tale of a Southern family that falls into financial ruin and struggles with losing their faith, Faulkner’s most famous novel is one that molds the English language in ways that few have been able to replicate. Definitely a must-read for those interested in taking English classes.
9. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
This is a relatively easy read of a tale that is by no means easy to tell. It’s a story based on the true experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam War, and it explores all the important consequences of war. As students of this country, we must be aware of the sacrifices and courage that others had to overcome to protect our freedom.
10. Night by Elie Wiesel
College is all about understanding each other better in the context of our global community, and it’s therefore necessary that we read about the most difficult parts of our history. A touching memoir about Wiesel’s experiences as a victim of the Holocaust, this book reminds us of our responsibility to understand one another. You’ll meet a lot of new kinds of people in college, and this book teaches us lessons of the importance of acceptance.
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