During college, you’ll likely see the same books on course reading lists or coming up in conversations with friends. If you’re not familiar with all of them but are ready to get acquainted, there’s no better time to start than the present. College is the perfect place to expand your horizons and improve yourself as a writer and a reader. Not sure where to begin? These well-known and wonderful books will make great additions to your dorm room bookshelf.
1. They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing – Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstein
Want to make your essay game way stronger? Read this! This guide to academic writing demystifies and explains how to use rhetorical moves that will make your essays truly persuasive. The book has tons of helpful advice, templates and tips to try when writing. For example, you’ll learn how to support your argument with evidence from scholars in the field so that your prof will never throw the “So what?” question at you again.
2. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Written in 1931, Brave New World is a dystopian nightmare. Aldous Huxley’s society is one where citizens are genetically engineered to be either smart professionals or unintelligent laborers—think of this as 1984‘s more messed-up little brother. Huxley takes emerging sciences of reproductive technology, psychological manipulation and conditioning to their extreme consequence to create a society where humans don’t truly choose or think.
3. Stylish Academic Writing – Helen Sword
In this accessible writing guide, Helen Sword rebels against writing that’s wordy and difficult for its own sake, arguing for a clearer, more accessible type of academic writing. To make her point, Sword provides examples of research essays that are actually interesting and engaging and gives tips on creating stylish elements in your own work, such as eye-catching titles and evocative introductions.
4. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
This classic narrative of a Brit’s journey up the Congo River into the heart of Africa is the formative colonial text. Though it can be a bit complex, the major themes of racial and national tensions are still important today. So much has been written about Conrad’s novel that professors often use it as a jumping off point and refer to it throughout a course. Odds of this novel coming up in one of your political, historical or literary classes: high.
5. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien passed away over forty years ago, but The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings still occupy huge spaces in our cultural imagination. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is undeniably intimidating, but the more humble story of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins is an entertaining narrative full of warm humor. The slim novel is a classic for a reason, and you can finally find out what all that Middle Earth fuss is about.
6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott
“The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.” Anne Lamott begins her book with this statement and goes on from there, offering advice to young writers about beating writer’s block, taking risks and learning how to express their innermost thoughts. Lamott lets you into her world so you feel like you’re not just reading a book about writing advice, you’re getting a glimpse into the day to day life of a working writer too.
7. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
Infamous for his love of whiskey, fishing and bullfights, Ernest Hemingway is a major figure in classic American literature. The original “manly man,” Hemingway wrote mostly about being a solider and living in Paris. However, The Old Man and the Sea is one of his simplest, most beautiful works. It’s about an aging Cuban fisherman’s struggle with an enormous marlin, and the highly symbolic ending will rock you.
8. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
Part memoir, part master class, this book by the famous horror and fantasy author Stephen King offers advice to writers of all levels. Let him take you on a journey through his own experiences where you’ll learn about everything that goes into a writer’s “tool kit”: a reading list, writing assignments, advice on plot and characters and how to construct a compelling piece of fiction (or non-fiction).
9. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
If you didn’t read this one in high school (or only pretended to), it’s time to do so. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic coming-of-age tale of a young girl living in the American south in the 1930s. It delves into issues of entrenched racial and gender inequality. Ultimately, the story aims to prove that the goodness of a person isn’t determined by their looks, but by their soul.
Though by no means an exhaustive list, these selections will help you start fleshing out your home library. Even if you don’t consider yourself a literary person, read these books and you’ll be able to hold your own if you ever get cornered by an English major at a party.