For the lucky, the self-disciplined, or the geographically advantaged, the move to college can be a simple matter of packing up a few suitcases, securing a shower caddy, and finding the right dorm room. For those of us with a tendency to hoard, ownership of a family mini-van, and an utter lack of shame, the move in might involve as many as three floor lamps, an armchair, and even a stone gargoyle named George.
Although I would certainly never advise anyone to bring her own personal gargoyle along (based solely on the number of times I stubbed my toes on the way into my room; I regard that particular choice as a big mistake), when you're ruthlessly weeding out the must-haves from the leave-at-homes, don't ignore your shelves. No matter how many libraries you may find at school, there are a few books you simply won't want to leave at home.
Initially, the idea of bringing books along with you to a palace of learning complete with challenging course requirements and unlimited borrowing privileges might not seem like the shrewdest choice, but trust me — no matter how much reading material is thrust upon you by scholarship or stretched out at your feet in the school library, your dormitory shelves simply won't be the same without these nine books.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Now is not the time to put those organizational instincts to work and banish all the whimsy from your shelves. As you make your way to the hallowed halls of higher education, you are going to need a little literary warmth to keep you going on the long, cold nights spent studying. Nothing brings that quite like Harry Potter. Entering the lush, luminous world of another young mind sent away to study, you’ll find your own hopes, fears, troubles, and triumphs mirrored in Harry’s journey through Hogwarts. Although you may not have a wand to guide you through the dark times, you do have Potter, so make sure to keep a volume or two close at hand even as the textbooks threaten to crowd out your guilty pleasures.
Garner's Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner
With all the thrilling opportunities for intellectual exploration, it's entirely possible that throughout your Freshman year some of the fundamentals may slip through your fingers, but with Garner’s Modern American Usage sitting pretty on your shelf you can keep your focus on the big picture and turn to the experts any time there’s a more specific question at hand. Trust me, when midnight rolls around and you’re trying to get those last few paragraphs out, the last thing you want to waste time on is a desparate google search for the correct usage of the semicolon.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Heading off to college can sometimes feel like taking the first step on a grand adventure, and, especially in those early days, you may just want to stop and soak up the wonder of it all. With scores of great college stories to choose from, there’s no one literary way to linger in the magic of matriculation, of course. Somehow, though, nothing quite says college like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Take in the sweet scent of freedom, the pure pleasure of possibility, and the limitless joy of life on the verge with this beatnik classic, and let yourself begin to believe it — you’ve arrived, the future awaits, anything is possible.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
Ideas spread like wildfire through the zeitgeist, and college is an absolute powder keg when it comes to the more overt political revolutions sweeping the public consciousness. Don’t wait to come to terms with the monumental ideas of our time in class, take along Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First century and dive right into the modern day revolution. After a few short hours with this contemporary classic, you’ll feel right at home on campus.
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders
Although at first you may find yourself overstimulated by all the new offerings (intellectual and extracurricular), it's important to maintain your own personal interests, no matter how intense the pressures of academic life may be. If you've always been an astronomy nut, keep those star charts handy even as you buckle down and begin that English Literature BA; if you're heavy into the hard sciences, don't let that stop you from enjoying a little epic poetry on the side. And, if you're not quite sure where to look for alternative interests, consider Giulia Enders' Gut, a transformative retelling of the digestive system that will leave your mind spinning and your heart racing no matter how strong the pull of your humanities homework.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In college, as in life, there are good days and bad days — days when you feel you can conquer the world, and days when you feel like you'll never fit in. For those moments when the college experience seems inescapably foreign and everything you know and love feels far away, turn to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and find solace in this extraordinary story of emigration, education, and everything that lies beyond.
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
There will be days when you wake up to the dulcet tones of your roommate screaming at her boyfriend over the phone, only to find yourself stuck in the rain, on the way to a boring class you may just be failing. On days like these you'll need a good laugh, so bring one along in literary form. With Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey Houseclose at hand, a good laugh is never more than a few paragraphs away.
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Unless you're an English major, it's unlikely that you'll find yourself surrounded by the big names in contemporary fiction in the cloistered environs of your classes, but that's no reason to let your love of literature lapse. When you head off to college, take along a modern masterpiece like Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, and keep your mind clear and your heart full through the power of truly spectacular fiction.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
At the end of long day, when you've gotten lost on the way to a new class and missed the last call at the dining hall, the last thing you need is a long night in bed with your textbook. With Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora safely shelved alongside those course readers you'll have a good solid guilty pleasure to turn to when you need to let campus life go. Take off into outer space on an journey rife with intrigue both interpersonal and intergalactic and let it all go. After all, it's only college.
Image: Nazareth College/flickr