For any bookworm, a reading list never truly ends – it just gets longer and longer. But how do you decide what to put on your list? Fortunately, back to school season brings assigned reading for us to choose from, and who better to assign reading to than a college freshman? We poured through the assigned reading for the burgeoning Class of 2019 and compiled our favorites for you.
Stanford University Recommends: Cane River
One of three books recommended for Stanford’s freshmen class, Lalita Tademy’s novel follows four generations of African-American women from the 1830s through the 1930s. Cane River is an historical novel that blends fiction with Tademy’s actual family history. Her powerful writing provides insight into the politics of both slavery and matriarchal societies and is worth reading. If that doesn’t convince you, you should know that Cane River is also an official Oprah Book Club selection. When has Oprah ever been wrong?
Cornell University Recommends: Slaughterhouse-Five
Considered a literary classic, Slaughterhouse-Five is both historically founded and science fiction. Written by Cornell University alumnus Kurt Vonnegut, this novel utilizes Vonnegut’s unique writing style, blending satire with dramatic re-tellings of WWII and Vietnam War stories. Even though it was published towards the end of the 1960s, the story feels modern and is consistently ranked as one of the best English-language novels of all time.
Duke University Recommends: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
The “to read or not to read” controversy aside, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a hilarious and heartbreaking memoir from cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Bechdel juxtaposes her sexual awakening with stories of growing up in the family-owned fun home (a.k.a. funeral parlor). The title-referenced tragedy? Bechdel’s closeted gay father committed suicide, and a majority of Bechdel’s memoir explores the mysteries he left behind – and if her own homosexuality contributed. This graphic novel’s musical adaptation recently won the Tony Award for Best Musical, proving that the story can be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.
NC State University Recommends: Stand Up That Mountain
Another pick on this list that’s based on a true story, Stand Up That Mountain is the story of a town threatened by a large mining company and the lawyer recruited to fight on the town’s behalf. Dog Town’s “mountain people” culture can be attributed to its place high in the Appalachians, and author Jay Erskine Leutze depicts their lifestyle – as well as the fight to maintain it – with grace, humor, and a lot of heart. Though the ending may be predictable, the journey is well-worth it – and it might convince you to try your luck hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Vanderbilt University Recommends: The Madonnas of Echo Park
Written by Brando Skyhorse and the recipient of the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award, The Madonnas of Echo Park is a series of vignettes about a family’s struggle to achieve the American dream while keeping their ethnic identity intact. The large and diverse cast of characters provides a multitude of perspectives so no matter where you are in life you’re bound to find a part of the book to relate to. With the themes of identity and relationships consistently present throughout the novel, it’s a perfect fit for young adults and for anyone who is trying to find their way.