Student Life

Top 10 books every college student should read

In “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby, protagonist Rob is forever making
top-five lists: Top five Elvis Costello songs; top five side-ones,
track-ones; top five songs about death; top five later-day sins
committed by Stevie Wonder.

But when it comes to narrowing down his top five favorite songs of
all time, he panics. There are too many options, too many subgenres to
properly choose.

So it is with the chore at hand: A top 10 list of novels every
college student should read before graduation.

From what era should they have been written? What genre? Should they
be all American writers? British? How can one possibly choose?

“It’s really difficult. It’s agonizing to pick the top 10,” said
Desmond Harding, assistant English professor. “It’s important for
undergraduates to read beyond the borders of a liberal arts education.”

This is not to mention the intense reading students are required for
course work, leaving students with the lack of time or initiative to go
out and find those books.

“We have a lot of leisure time but we have a great many things to
do,” said Peter Koper, associate professor of English. “There are
simply too many good books.”

Still, even with that advice, Lifeline seeks to give its readers a
diverse list of novels that experts say will help give students the
well-rounded education they’ve always dreamed of.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Plot summary: The moral depravity of the upper class in the 1920s is
personified. Jay Gatsby spends his entire life trying to win the heart
of a woman he knew years ago, only to meet his demise. If you didn’t
read this in high school, get on with it already.

The experts say: “It’s a very tight novel. It’s only 186 pages
and there’s not a misplaced word in it,” said Mark Yakich, professor of

Library: Several copies available

Price: About $13

Excerpt: “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can
be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

“A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean

Plot summary: A book about fly fishing might not appeal to
everyone, but that activity proves to be a metaphor for family,
religion and life in this autobiographical novella.

The experts say: “It’s my favorite piece of fiction. In addition to
being a tragic story, it has some funny, funny, funny scenes,” said
Koper. Need proof? Read the chapter regarding a prostitute named Old

Library: No luck here

Price: $10

Excerpt: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion
and fly fishing.“

“High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby

Plot summary: Record store owner Rob Fleming has just been
dumped by his girlfriend, Laura. A perpetual list-maker, Rob sets
out to talk to his all-time top-five most painful break-ups to see
where it all went wrong. You may have seen the movie; the book is

The experts say: “When a book has a first-person narrator, it
has quirks you can’t get in a movie except in voice-over. It’s a good
read,” Yakich said.

Library: No luck here

Price: About $14

Excerpt: “Laura leaves first thing Monday morning with a hold-all
and a carrier bag. “

“Native Son” by Richard A. Wright

Plot summary: It is regarded as a classic, but “Native Son” is more
than just a good read. It is a telling novel about the racial
injustices suffered by African Americans.

The experts say: “This is an explosive novel. Three hours after this
book was on shelves the first printing was sold out,” said
Harding. “It is essential to understanding twentieth century
American literature and race relations.”

Library: Several copies

Price: $12

Excerpt: “A brown-skinned girl in a cotton gown got up and stretched
her arms above her head and yawned.”

“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

Plot summary: You know this one: A well-to-do middle
aged man falls for a 12-year-old girl. Scandal! But though the topic is
controversial, “Lolita” remains a classic novel about morality and is,
unexpectedly, laced with humor.

What the experts say: “The great thing about Nabokov is he has
such a command of language,” Harding said. “Since its initial
publication, it’s probably the greatest American novel not written by
an American.”

Library: Several copies available

Price: About $12

Excerpt: “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet
ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school.”

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Plot summary: Austen paints the picture of a 1800s English society
battle of the sexes. Readers often fixate on one main tension
throughout the book: Will Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy get together?

The experts say: Austen has been a timeless staple in popular
literature since she was first published. “When I was a teenager I read
Pride and Prejudice and other novels by Jane Austen,” said Aparna
Zambare, reference librarian, English bibliographer and assistant

Library: Several copies, even one that is illustrated

Price: About $15

Excerpt: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man
in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac

Plot Summary: Sal Paradise, one of Kerouac’s alter egos, is
encouraged by Dean Moriarty to take off and experience life on the
road. It is the novel that helped capture the heart and the essence of
the Beat generation — and influenced writing for years.

The experts say: “It’s a great romance. It’s about a journey of self
discovery, but not just a physical journey — It’s a journey to the
heart of America. It’s a soulful book as much as anything else,”
Harding said.

Library: Two copies

Price: $12

Excerpt: “Great Chicago glowed red before our eyes. ”

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera

Plot summary: While the story revolves around womanizing Tomas, “The
Unbearable Lightness of Being” is really a study in philosophy and
social commentary. By the way, this book is referenced in “High

The experts say: “It’s an intellectual novel that doesn’t start out
with characters. Kundera intersperses narrative with philosophical and
pop ideas,” Yakich said.

Library: The movie, not the book.

Price: About $12

Excerpt: “I have been thinking about Tomas for many years. But only
in the light of these reflections did I see him clearly.”

“Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor

Plot summary: A man trying to avoid God forms the Church Without
Christ. Sounds like religious satire!

The experts say: “It’s important for students to read because it
reveals something really important about the human condition and shows
a kind of emptiness of a life without faith. It’s a lonely place to be
when you live without grace,” Harding said.

Library: Just one copy

Price: $12

Excerpt: “Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush
train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to
jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the

“Midnight’s Children” by Salaman Rushdie

Plot summary: With a mix of poetry and prose, narrator Saleem tells
a story of India and its citizens when it gains independence. Saleem is
literally falling apart. He tells readers, “I mean quite simply that I
have begun to crack all over like an old jug[.]” That’s quite an
attention grabber.

The experts say: “It’s a very affectionate love song, a mixing of
political reality and prose pyrotechnics, wordplay, puns, and
alliterations. What it really does is highlight the possibilities of
the English language,” Harding said.

Library: Only one copy — so hurry

Price: About $15

Excerpt: “In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the
moment, although there are signs of an acceleration.”

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