Assigned reading that actually has some value


It’s a common idea: college students don’t like to read. For school, for fun, for anything – I’m a little amazed that you’re reading a newspaper at this moment, to be honest. Who can blame the disinterest in reading? At the end of the day, if you’re that rare college student who actually completes all their assigned reading, there is no desire to read anything other than a MySpace blog. But there are some books that everyone should read, hopefully before they leave college and are forced to enter the real world. Here are just a few books that are essential reading – and actually interesting.

Back to high school

So many novels required in high school are literally the most boring works of literature in the world – which explains why Cliff Notes can be a godsend. Two novels that everyone should have read in high school – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – are actually interesting. I know, I was just as shocked. If you resorted to the easy medium – a.k.a. an online synopsis – when reading these in your teens, you should go back and read them now, if only for the interesting (and well-written) insights into human nature they provide. “Mockingbird,” set in the 1930s South, focuses on a single-parent family which weathers criticism when the father defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. “Gatsby,” meanwhile, has all the makings of a (good) soap opera, and offers a look into the seedy side of the American dream in the 1920s, serving as a cautionary tale. Both books are classics that are actually interesting, and their themes are still relevant today.

Memoirs and those self-obsessed enough to

write them

One book seemed to help start the craze of people in their 20s and 30s write about their “entire life,” as it were. Published in 1999, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” written by freelancer Dave Eggers, was an instant success, and went on to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and receive tons of critical acclaim, all of which Eggers shied away from. His book tells the story of how, when he was 21, both of his parents died within around six weeks of each other, and he was left to take care of his eight-year-old brother; the two eventually moved to San Francisco and Eggers tried to find a new balance in his life between “parent” and “college student.” The book is hilarious, though the summary doesn’t suggest such amusement; there is also an energy that propels the book forward that is inescapable. For a more understated approach to memoirs, read a book by David Sedaris; he is older than Eggers, and thus has more life experience and practice in writing, which makes his essays a little better than “Heartbreaking.” For the best Sedaris writings, check out “Naked” or “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”

The future?

“1984” by George Orwell offers a look at a different, frightening society – yet hits a bit too close to home. “1984” revolves around one man who works for the political party of Oceania in London; he knows the truth of how the party controls individuals and thus is in a permanent state of fear. With its mentions of Big Brother watching everyone and everything, the novel hits a bit too close to home, especially after the recent spying charges against the United States government.