Reading summer school books may not be appealing for many 18-year-olds who are preparing to enter college.
Nonetheless, the move to college brings several educational and philosophical shifts in dynamic that require some preparation. Students will need to engage with literature in a new way by considering context, questioning author motivations, and reflecting on the social results of the words on the page.
The books below, which range from the classical period to the modern, offer incoming college freshmen a sense of the expectations they should have for college-level reading.
- “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. Capote’s 1966 book essentially created the true crime genre. This nonfiction (with liberties) account of a brutal murder raises issues like the justifications for killing and the death penalty, while inadvertently illustrating what can happen when an author gets too close to the material. Capote worked on the story with Harper Lee, another iconic American author.
- “The Republic” by Plato. Immortality, justice, government, beauty — this classical dialogue covers timeless philosophical issues. It has influenced almost every government and writer in some way, and shaped the way that academics discuss politics and morality. At a time when young adults are forming their own political and moral beliefs, “The Republic” presents issues to be contended with.
- “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even if students read it in high school, Fitzgerald’s classic deserves a second look without the constraints of testing and deadlines. Apart from beautiful writing, the novel captures and exposes the American Dream of wealth and success and all that it entails.
- “Ballistics” by Billy Collins. College is the perfect time to start reading poetry. Collins is the U.S. Poet Laureate, and this book is an excellent (and very readable) example of modern poetry. It is often funny and self-referential, and can be absorbed in sections over the course of the summer.
- “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. A classic coming-of-age story that follows two seminal characters and a group of their friends as they travel from a series of wild nights in 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain.
- “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. An international murder-mystery thriller that can only be solved by following a trail of historical clues hidden inside works by classic painter Da Vinci.
Some of the books above are easily finished in a week, others are much longer. Each asks its readers important questions and leaves them better than they found them.