I still remember exactly where I was when the thrill of independence and adventure first wore off... and I found myself alone on a foreign campus, without a friend to my name. Having hurried my parents back home at the first hint of orientation, I was confronted by hours of solitude and an empty calendar (it turns out, waiting in line to have your student I.D. picture taken and registering for classes don't really constitute a packed schedule).
Loneliness was tugging at me. I tried for a few comforting calls to high school friends, but somehow the chatter of old classmates who seemed to have it all figured out at college didn't do much to improve my mood. As the days wore on and classes started, boredom abated, but loneliness still nipped at me. Although the occasional phone call home made me smile, and a friendly text message never failed to brighten my day, whenever I felt the mean reds creeping in to spoil my morning or needling at me on a quiet night, I picked up a book. After all, nothing makes a patch of grass feel more comfortable between classes or an evening in bed seem cozy and sweet like the comfort of a great book.
So, for those inevitable moments early on at college when life starts to feel a little empty, turn to one of these nine books for a tale of leaving home and starting fresh that is sure to stave off the loneliness.
Leaving Home by Anita Brookner
Anita Brookner's delicate, daring novel follows the story of one young girl's decision to leave home and make her way in the world with integrity and empathy. For those days when the cost of independence feels too high, settle in with Brookner's endearing, contemplative protagonist Emma and take comfort and solace in following the journey all the way to the end to the end. Although you may still be mired the first few pages of your own story, a sneak peak at the possibilities that lie in store down the line might be just what the doctor ordered.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
For a rousing look at the road not taken and a lesson in the rewards of striking out on your own, you can't do better than Patti Smith's breathtaking memoir Just Kids. Spinning the story of a young, untested Smith as she makes her way to New York City, struggles to survive on the streets, befriends artists and rockers, battles a broken heart and works tirelessly to bring her dreams to life, Just Kids is solid proof that putting yourself out there and risking it all really does pay off.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Whether or not you take comfort in the slow delicate dance of America's pastime (personally, I find it just about as dull as watching paint dry, and a good deal more expensive when you throw in all of those Cracker Jacks), Henry Skrimshander's journey from awkward freshman to college baseball legend is sure to strike a chord. Capturing the minutiae of college life with an uncommon and uncanny candor, Harbach brings the academic journey to life in raw detail. When you're ready to revel in someone else's small triumphs and social failings for a change, turn to The Art of Fielding and soak it all in.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
While your own close-knit group of college friends is still in the early stages of development, revel in the captivating story of another close-knit group of clever misfits at a college perhaps not unlike your own. Shot through with mystery and a tinged with tragedy, Tartt's tale of friendship, love, life, and death on a bucolic campus in Vermont makes for the perfect literary companion to occupy you until you've found an eccentric group of flesh and blood friends all your own.
The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis
Sometimes just as you're hurtling forward towards a new life the lure of times gone by hold the greatest appeal. If you think a look back at those last few months of high school might be the perfect way to take your mind of these first few months of college, let Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers into your life. Following the bright, smug Charles Highway on a quest to win over the woman of his dreams, The Rachel Papers brings together all the elements of a classic high school story with the clear, caustic wit and wisdom only Martin Amis can add.
Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair
Sometimes finding your place in the social order is simply a matter of time, and sometimes the question is complicated by larger social forces that tug at your core identity. For those times when you find yourself questioning your place not only in the classroom and the dorm but also the world at large, pick up April Sinclair's brilliant, biting, utterly inspiring story of one young girl's struggles with sexuality and race at the height of the civil rights movement.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Starting over again at college can sometimes feel like setting down on another planet — cold, isolating, and foreign. For those nights when you'd like a little empathy and comfort as you navigate through treacherous waters, consider picking up Madeleine L'Engle's YA classic A Wrinkle in Time. After a few hours with the brash, spunky, awkward, and endearing Meg Murray on the hunt to save her father, your own particular journey might feel just a bit more bearable.
The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
Admittedly, Oates' gothic tale of supernatural evil lurking at the edges of a genteel turn-of-the-century Princeton, New Jersey isn't exactly a tale of warmth and succor, yet somehow this genre-bending story vampires and ghosts, Grover Cleveland, and Upton Sinclair is the perfect antidote to an afternoon of wallowing in self-pity and despair. Allow yourself to fall under the spell of this absorbing tale and in no time you'll find yourself thankful for your place in the present day, on a sunny afternoon, without even a hint of demonic activity in the area.
Changing Places by David Lodge
Nothing chases away the blue meanies and brightens up a dull afternoon like a little laughter. So, as you while away the time waiting for the joys of college to come into full bloom, indulge in a good laugh with David Lodge's Changing Places. A classic story of trading places and the uproarious results that follow, Lodge's comic novel is the perfect campus satire, and a surefire way to turn that frown upside down.
Image: hjl / flickr