11 Books Every Incoming Freshman Should Read This Summer

The summer before college: a blissful, carefree time. OR IS IT? You're probably working some terrible minimum-wage job because you just found out your parents aren't paying for your room and board; your best friends are all attending different colleges than you and some of them have already left; everyone and her mom is vacationing in the south of France; your high school boyfriend just broke up with you so he can "play the field" at the University of South Dakota and when you said, "What?!" he replied, "Babe, I meant, like, lacrosse." What's an angsty incoming freshman to do?

Read, that's what. Read as much as you can, especially for fun, because your life is about to be taken over by assigned reading lists. Read outside, by the pool, on a blanket in the park, in the crook of an old weeping willow. In a few months you'll be desperately speed-reading through musty pages in the dark bowels of the campus library (and having a great time, don't worry), so make the most of this carefree-ish summer. Read what excites you. Read what you love. And if you can't find anything you love, try these:

1. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is the master of the glamorous bad decision; he wrote this book (which takes place at Princeton University) to get famous and thereby get a girl.

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2. I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

Ever wondered what goes down in college dorms after-hours? This book is about a college freshman who loses her innocence at a school that's just a thinly fictionalized version of Duke University.

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3. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

If you're going to college in America, you may as well have some idea of what it means to be an American, and I have yet to read a novel that sums up the tragedy and nobility of American history as well as this one. It also explores the terrible fact that you can do everything right and still things will go wrong. Happy freshman year!

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4. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

The three kids in this novel approach education in three different ways, and they all make huge mistakes as they do so. This book will teach you how not to be the most annoying student in the classroom.

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5. The Girl Who Ran Away by Joan G. Robinson

A rambunctious, misunderstood tomboy named Charley runs away from family life to experience real freedom. Sound like anyone you know?

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6. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

This'll teach you how to feel. (By the way, it was published when Neruda was 19. No pressure!)

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7. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Speaking of poets, the 17-year-old narrator of this book longs to be a poet and falls in with a group of ragtag vagabonds who talk a lot about poetry but write very little of it. It's like a darker On the Road for the Latin American set.

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8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Let's just say your college experience won't be as bad as Oscar Wao's. Guaranteed.

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9. The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales

College classes will try to take away your imagination. Don't let them.

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10. The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek

Dybek captures that tenuous summery feeling of being young and in the city and lost and happy and worried — everything that characterizes this very rare time in your life.

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11. All the Harry Potter books — again

Or The Lord of the Rings , or Anne of Green Gables , or the Redwall series. Revisit your favorite childhood series for old times' sake — you'll fly through them this time around. Let yourself bask in nostalgia, and don't worry if you don't end up finishing them all. That's what winter break is for.

Harry Potter complete set, $52, Amazon; The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings set, $17, Amazon; Anne of Green Gables 8-book box set, $28, Amazon; Redwall (Book 1), $9, Amazon