8 Books You Should Read Before College
Keep in mind as you read through this list of 8 books you should read before college, that these titles are not necessarily light, enjoyable summer reading in the sense that you probably think of it. Still, they are some of the most important books, past and present, and will both shape your understanding of others and prepare you for the outside world.
1. The Bible
Many look at the Bible as a guide for living life and a source of inspiration, but you don’t have to be a “believer” to see the value in understanding this book. It has influenced governments — including the US government — throughout its long history, and no matter what the future might hold, it has been one of the primary drivers of the Christian faith for about 2,000 years. It’s also influenced literature, science, and various aspects of other disciplines. To ignore its existence is to not understand more than a millennium of civilization. With more than 700,000 words, it’s like reading seven or eight novels in one year, though some parts are more entertaining than others. The book of Numbers is undeniably brutal.
2. Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard professor, wrote this examination of the way social media has changed our world (and continues to do so). As you’re probably aware from the film The Social Network, Harvard was the birthplace of Facebook, and really the social media explosion. It’s where Mark Zuckerberg and his roommates would construct the billion-strong website, paving the way for other popular services like Google+ and Twitter. The book is relevant to our present world, and will only intensify in importance as these platforms evolve to infiltrate every aspect of our lives — as if they haven’t already.
3. Packing for Mars
Mary Roach has an interesting way of looking at the world — or universe, rather — in this funny and thought-provoking work. Roach scratches the surface with facts like what happens to throw-up in outer space and what happens when you use a space shuttle potty. What could you give up on a trip to the stars? What happens to the body when it isn’t allowed to physically walk for a year, or have sex, or smell flowers? Take a look at space life before ever leaving our soil. While the book has a lot of “neat” factor to it, its illumination of what waits beyond your front door, your hometown, or state, is just the right ingredient to prep for college.
4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
In life, you’ll find that sometimes not every good thing is completely good, and not every bad thing is completely bad. There are a lot of gray areas, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel is a perfect literary example. While the book did much to awaken the nation to the horrors of slavery before and during the Civil War, its choice of protagonist in the “good Christian” Uncle Tom has since caused controversy. African-Americans look down on the character for conforming so thoroughly to white society. While at the time, he was exactly what the nation needed in facilitating a connection between human injustice and the whites, who had the power to stop it, he is more maligned for his willingness to “just go along” by our 21st Century culture. In fact, “Uncle Tom” is now seen as a derogatory term. Reading this book will help you look at issues from more than one perspective.
5. All Quiet on the Western Front
This horrific World War I novel is a must-read for anyone considering military service. Serving your country and fighting injustice are noble causes, and while nothing can truly prepare one for the hell of war, it’s important to know as much as you can before making such a life-altering decision as enrolling in the Armed Forces. Many teenagers enlist without having a grasp of the true possibilities. Erich Maria Remarque’s book is still one of the best we’ve seen for spelling out those possibilities in visceral detail. Again, join the military and serve your country if you want. There are few decisions more noble. But be mindful of the good and the bad of such a decision before making it. Ultimately, is it worth the sacrifice to serve? Absolutely. Just be informed.
6. Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison’s book explores the racial divide and the reality of bigotry in both its most obvious and sneakiest forms. You don’t have to be an African-American to see the value in this novel. What it says about a victim’s experience with regard to racism can also be applied to anyone who falls under the dehumanizing practice of prejudice. In a sense, Invisible Man is a piece of literature that helps us to recognize bigotry in all its forms, whether it’s perpetrated with a noose or a smile.
The next time you stand for something, realize that transversely there are also things you are standing against. And when you take that stand, consider how it manifests itself in your actions. Are you the type who can disagree with others but approve of their right to think the way they do, or do you think society should change to conform to your convictions because they just seem too “right” to be wrong? In George Orwell’s classic novel, the authoritarian state that runs Oceania doesn’t think it’s evil, but it persecutes freedom, individuality, and self-expression because, well, that just keeps things running “smoothly.” The book is an important reminder that getting your way isn’t always a good thing if it blots out the identity of another. Just think, the next time it could happen to you.
8. Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher’s tale of emotional mystery should be required reading for all high school students. Following the events that led up to a classmate’s suicide, Clay Jenkins pores over a box of thirteen cassette tapes that gradually unveil the mystery of why Hannah did what she did. Not only is it a powerful fable for the 21st Century, it’s also a masterful piece of storytelling, wherein we learn about the true power of narrative. When done well, a story doesn’t have to move linearly, nor conform to a rigid set of standards to be effective. It’s a work open to possibility.
If you could only pick eight books as required reading before college, what would they be and why?