There are a few things you may want to do before stepping onto your college campus for freshman year, like getting some cool posters and a mini-fridge for your dorm room or making sure you have the right pack and accessories for your classes.
Just as important? Being prepared to talk about a variety of subjects with your new classmates and professors. That’s why we’ve put together a list of books to read before college that range from funny to heart-wrenching while covering everything from science and the environment to romance and education.
The Call to Action: The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Overstory, Richard Powers’ love letter to trees, will make you want to grab your Far Out 40 and head to the woods. Powers is determined to show his readers the wonder and the beauty of the cedars, pines, birches, and aspens that grow among us, while simultaneously exposing just how fragile nature is in the modern era. Although the book has a strong message, it’s eye-opening without being preachy, striking a balance that helped earn Powers the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2019.
The Science Book: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
In this ambitious best seller, Bill Bryson sets out to explain everything from the Big Bang to the rise of modern humans with the same humor and enthusiasm he brings to his travelogues. If science wasn’t your favorite subject in high school, that’s all the more reason to give Bryson’s book a read. He explains the universe in layman’s terms, managing to transform explanations into stories without talking down to his readers. This book genuinely makes science fun—and will leave you with a greater understanding of the world around you.
The Romantic Coming-of-Age Story: Emma by Jane Austen
Jane Austen has always been a master of opening lines, and Emma —which begins by describing its title character as “handsome, rich, and clever”—is no exception. Austen set out to create a heroine that no one would like, yet readers can’t seem to help falling for Emma; her story has been adapted more than dozen times for film, television, and even YouTube, which shows just how well its humor and its characters endure. On the surface, Emma is a comedy of manners, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it has as much to say about society as it does about growing up or falling in love.
The Autobiography: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
In 2018, Tara Westover published this record of her journey from being periodically home-schooled by her survivalist family in Idaho to attending graduate school at Cambridge. Her book quickly became a phenomenon, with Time magazine naming her one of the most influential people of the year in 2019. Westover’s slow discovery of what life is like outside of her family’s limited worldview—in which modern medicine, public institutions, and the government are all feared—is both shocking and a testament to the incredible power of education.
The Modern Classic: Beloved by Toni Morrison
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, Beloved is a landmark novel by late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. It draws from the real life of Margaret Garner, an enslaved woman who fled to Cincinnati before being captured and brought to trial under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In Beloved, Morrison examines the violent legacy of slavery and the terrible choices it put before enslaved peoples trying to escape its grasp. The novel’s acclaim stems not only from how insightfully Morrison explores its themes but also from the richness of her writing, which deftly moves from present to past and back again.
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By: Jessen O’Brien