The following is a list of books you should read in college, whether you like reading books or not. But before we get to that, I’ll recommend some books that aren’t on the list, like books assigned by your professors, and books recommended by friends. Challenge yourself to read something you wouldn’t. Read obvious books like Hamlet, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Sense and Sensibility, and Man’s Search for Meaning. And if you find yourself hating any one of them, throw the book across the room and pick up something else. Read all the books.
Let’s start with philosophy—I think we can agree that, to a certain extent, college is mostly about thinking and talking about thinking and problem solving and discovery of how life is. What I really want to recommend to you is A. A. Milne’s The World of Pooh, which, toilet humor aside, is one of the best. But since not everyone wants to be seen reading a children’s book, let’s read Benjamin Hoff’s THE TAO OF POOH, which takes Milne’s stories and prescribes them as a way of learning about true happiness and eastern philosophy. This is one of the most fun philosophy books that exist and Pooh (through Hoff) really will pique your interest in Taoism.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” So begins ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND by Shunryu Suzuki, a collection of talks recorded by one of the Zen Buddhist monk’s students. Still in the realm of eastern philosophy but moving from speaking generally about Taoism, we’re now speaking specifically about Buddhist meditation—from thinking to doing. As it’s taken from talks rather than intended for print, so many of the lines are simple and resonate deeply, and may be just the thing for the mind of a college student thrown into transition and disorganization. “It’s impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order.”
ARTFUL by Ali Smith is one of those books that is said to defy categorization, and that’s actually true. Taken from a series of lectures Smith delivered in 2012 and then strained through a mind deeply devoted to fiction, this book reads like a novel (yet isn’t) as it meanders seamlessly between plot and essay (it isn’t really this either), Smith ruminates on time, form, edge, offer and reflection, while keeping the book tied to loss, literature, and the ghosts of the past. And as confusing as all that may sound, it’s so readable.
If you’re the sort of angsty wanderer for whom On the Road and Catcher in the Rye appeals, let me recommend to you YOU CAN’T WIN by Jack Black. A memoir written in the 1920s, Black’s conversational style details his various adventures living as a hobo and a yegg around the US and Canada. This is my answer to Twain, the Beats, westerns, and history all rolled into one. If that isn’t recommendation enough, it’s William S. Burroughs’s favorite book.