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 English.

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 Rawhide.

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 better.

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 professor.

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 Fidelity.”

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 car.”

“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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