For incoming and current college students, summer is the time to read books of your own choosing. You get to read novels that transport you to another place or nonfiction that shifts your perspective on the world. Whether you are interested in exploring the classics, delving into a little economic theory or achieving some personal growth, summer offers myriad literary possibilities.
As “Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley put it, “Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the way in which he exists, to make his life full, significant, and interesting.” In other words, reading gives you the chance to build a solid learning foundation, regardless of what discipline you are studying. And colleges are great places to get book suggestions.
To help college students launch their summer reading, NerdScholar has collected the best of the best college reading lists. Enjoy!
Best reading list recommended by recent graduates
University of California at Berkeley
UC Berkeley’s 2013 graduates gave the school’s incoming freshmen a great parting gift—their very own recommendations on what they should read and how it could impact them. They note what their majors were and include a synopsis of how each book could affect a student’s thinking.
From Daniel Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” about how and what makes humans happy to Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” about the food system, the now alumni share some of their favorite books. In the past, UC Berkeley has asked its staff and professors to provide recommendations, but we laud its bold move to change it up a bit this year and have college seniors offer their favorite books before entering the real world. We find this compilation to be one of the most diverse, smart and holistic summer reading lists out there.
Best summer reading list that encourages a broad liberal arts education
University of Notre Dame
As Notre Dame’s list puts it, “One of the differences between high school and college is the degree to which you actively educate yourself, and your summer reading can be a part of your transition to greater engagement in your own education.” In other words, what you read will shape your educational experience, so choose your material wisely!
The Indiana university’s summer reading list is grouped by discipline, and its thoughtful recommendations are specific to various fields. For example, for fine arts, the university library urges as much viewing and listening as reading and includes movies, jazz and classical music.
Notre Dame’s list is highly personal to the university as well, and includes an essay and book list from a former president of Notre Dame and current professor of theology; it also offers recommendations of up and coming authors like campus visitor Junot Diaz.
It also suggests such historical books as Allen Guelzo’s “Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President” and George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia.” Students are also encouraged to read “Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds” by Richard Light to get good ideas about what it takes to be successful on campus.
Best fiction summer reading list from college librarians
Appalachian State University
The recommendations from the librarians at Appalachian State University in North Carolina come with simple one-sentence reasons why you should read the books.
They suggest such diverse reading as Joseph Kanon’s “Los Alamos,” a murder-mystery about the making of the atomic bomb, and Patrice Kindl’s “Keeping the Castle,” the story of an 18-year-old beauty who searches for a rich husband to help support her family. This list is diverse and will fill your summer beach reading with unpredictable twists and turns.
Best summer reading list for the campus community
The Swarthmore College community and library unified forces to share the books they plan to read this summer. Lauren Farmer, in the political science department, recommended “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck, a classic about two California families.
From the president’s office, Maurice Eldridge suggested “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison, a book set in 17th century America.
Michelle Hartel, from the Pennsylvania campus Kohlberg Coffee Bar, suggests Faiza Guene’s “Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow” about a 19-year-old who learns to rise above her misery and dispel her preconceived notions.
Best summer reading list with coming of age stories
Wake Forest University
Wake Forest University students will be doing some major reflecting by reading stories that spur them to reexamine themselves, society and their place in the world. Among Wake Forest University’s recommendations is Amor Towles’ “Rules of Civility,” a novel about 25-year-old Katey Kontent’s journey through New York high society. Another recommended coming of age story is Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” detailing first dates, family drama and making new friends in high school and beyond. Additionally, Wake Forest suggests Andrew Delbanco’s “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” an account of how a college education is becoming a privilege for the rich.
Betsy Chapman, director of parent programs at the North Carolina university, said about the reading list, “At Wake Forest, we have increased our efforts to engage and inform parents and families about their students’ college experience. In that spirit, we write a series of online weekly columns for first year students’ families that talk about one aspect of life on campus. For our final column of the academic year, we send the families off with a suggested summer reading list that has been recommended by our colleagues within the faculty, administration, and our talented Z. Smith Reynolds librarians. This can be a wonderful way for students and families to have their own personal book club, or read things together over the summer.”
Best summer reading list from the English Department
Albright College’s summer reading list comes from the Pennsylvania school’s English department. Associate Professor Teresa Gilliams, Ph.D., recommends reading “Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis, a book she says confronts the big questions about what life is really about and will help you live more moment to moment. According to Gilliams, the book made her “more inspired, more centered about what really matters, less concerned about life issues over which I have no control, and consciously more self-loving and other-affirming.”
Another good recommendation comes from the department’s lecturer Samantha Roy — “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It explores the extremes that humans can endure, shedding light on the capacity of human existence.
Best reading list to tackle before going to college
Harvard University’s College Admissions Reading List gives future college students a long compilation of summer reading suggestions that may make an ideal preface to a successful campus career. For example, one of the books recommended is Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” which talks about events that have vast societal impact. Another good one is “Composing a Life” by Mary Bateson, which demonstrates how change can be a source of growth.