Friday, June 29, 2012

Some other reading ideas for incoming college freshmen

This is a post I am doing mostly for fun. I saw Book Riot's post on "A Summer Reading List for College Freshmen," and I figured I could add a few things. I also figured I could take some things out and save incoming freshmen some pain and grief. The basic premise of the post that what's important is the kind of books you read is right on. But maybe some other choices may be in order, at least in my humble opinion. In other words, if someone asked this librarian what to recommend to incoming college freshmen, what would I recommend? Well, glad you asked. I am going to use the same categories that the author over there used. Go read the original post, then you can come back.

  • One of Shakespeare's plays. Yes, you will be reading Shakespeare at some point in college, so do yourself a favor and pick some up. Titus Andronicus is good. I would have suggested Coriolanus. There is a nice new adaptation with Ralph Fiennes, so you still get the whole dynamic of being able to talk about a film adaptation. Other options may include Othello (not that obscure, and if you read it in school, pass on) and Henry V (this is just a favorite of mine. Plus there are various adaptations of this play including one by Laurence Olivier and another by Kenneth Brannagh).
  • The biography of a historical figure. The author goes American on this category. So, I will do the same. I will admit that biography is not a big reading interest for me, but I do read some. I would maybe suggest something like Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City. This book teaches you some American history, you get the story of Henry Ford, and you get some Latin American history in the process. You also get some lessons on American imperialism, nation building, and hubris, topics that are actually pretty relevant today. I will do you one better and add one more. I would also suggest Lost Kingdom: The Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure. This is a biography and history of the last monarch of Hawaii up to the moment when the U.S. annexes the island. It would cover you in terms of it being about a topic that may be somewhat obscure in American history (let's be honest, outside of Hawaii, how many "average" Americans know this story in any detail?). Plus, in a way, it could be history outside the U.S. (the next category) since Hawaii was an independent nation before the U.S. took it over. And again, this book also has lessons for today.
  • One book about a historical event or a period in history. Ok, they went outside the U.S., so shall we. One suggestion that comes to mind is Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. However, it is a bit of a heavy book. Or you can pick one of Joe Sacco's graphic novels such as Safe Area Gorazde, about the war in Bosnia. 
  • One "classic" novel (pre-1910). I will admit that after graduate school, I had enough of the classics. But if you must, Ms. Neace's suggestions work. I would have added Stoker's Dracula. I would have skipped Dickens, since odds are good you already had it inflicted to you in school, most likely Great Expectations. That is more than enough to get a feel for Dickens. You may want to try The Picture of Dorian Gray to fill this category. Besides, you may have to read other Oscar Wilde works, so this will give you a start.
  • One "modern" classic (post-1910). Pedro Paramo is a very good suggestion. I had to read it in high school (in Spanish), but I have come to appreciate it a bit better over time. You could also give Gabriel Garcia Marquez a try. One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered his magnum opus. However, you can still get a good taste of this author if you pick up one or two of his short fiction collections, especially earlier ones. Many of these stories take place in Macondo, the fictional setting of the novel, so you can get a small taste that might encourage you to seek out the novel. As for Faulkner, which Ms. Neace suggests, I guess any is good. I personally do not recommend Faulkner (in fact, I hate it), but odds are good you may have to read at least one. So pick one up now and get a head start. For my money, go with the Latin Americans. Heck, here you can add cool people like Borges, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, so on. Read those folks and skip the usual white guy. Oh, and before anyone says anything, if you want women, Isabel Allende (her earlier works) is a good bet.
  • One dystopian novel. By now, I think this is a genre that is starting to get saturated, especially in YA dystopias, and not in a good way. If you have not read the usual suspects: Bradbury, Huxley, and Orwell, you should, so pick them up. Maybe instead of Rand's Anthem, you might consider Zamyatin's We or Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (if you have not done so already). 
  • One young adult novel. I would suggest The House of the Scorpion for this category. By the way, this could also be your dystopian novel, but we are going YA here.
  • Something political (ideally a book that represents an opposing viewpoint). This is kind of tricky here. I would rather go with something that explains a bit about the current political climate and maybe helps you think instead of just picking a conservative book because you happen to be liberal or viceversa. Having said that, exposing yourself to opposing views once in a while is a good idea, if for no other reason than to know what your enemy/rival thinks. At any rate, for this I would recommend Deer Hunting with Jesus.
  • A graphic novel. Oh dear, where do I start? If you have not read Watchmen, or the only thing you know is the movie, you owe it to yourself to pick up the actual graphic novel. Yes, Maus is sort of a given, so if you have not picked it up, do it now. After those, if we stay "literary" (i.e. no comic books, heroes in tights and such), I would recommend Fun Home and/or American Born Chinese. If you want less "literary," the American Vampire series is one to pick up. I could go on with this, but you just need one for now. 
So those are my suggestions if I had to do this little RA exercise. What would my four readers add or take out? Feel free to comment. For instance, I saw in the comments over there that you could suggest poetry. There are a lot of choices for poetry. Short fiction collections? Other things?

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