In middle school, those pesky Accelerated Reading points made reading feel like a chore. You know you read the small and easy books just to get more points. But as impressionable young adults, there’s bound (pun intended) to be a book whose story we still carry with us today. Maybe you were the kid who pulled your covers over your head to read “Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets,” or maybe you wandered through your high school hallways with your nose in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Maybe you were never much of reader, and you’re questioning why you’re even reading this article. Don’t lose hope—you just might find your love of reading through these books that have inspired college students.
Aliens, accounts of war, profound characters, scathing but hilarious satire—what’s not to love about the insightful and oddly brilliant Kurt Vonnegut? “Slaughterhouse Five” focuses on a mentally unstable optometrist, Billy Pilgrim, who is kidnapped by aliens and taken to their planet, Tralfamadore. While Billy is stuck in the Tralfamadorians’ unconventional ideas of time, he learns to accept his fate. “I love Vonnegut in general, because he has this uncanny ability to mix humor with some really deep messages and tough topics. ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ in particular, because it’s a spot on depiction of what PTSD is like, but it’s written in terms that are entertaining and palatable enough for anyone,” said Florida State University senior Christiana Lloyd-Kirk.
There’s a part in all of us that wants to be a boss, but to be a #girlboss is even more kick ass. So why not learn from the best? Sophia Amoruso, founder of the online clothing company Nasty Gal and the girl boss empire, tells about her humble beginnings as a college drop-out shoplifter who makes it to the top of the fashion industry and becomes a total boss-ass b—h in her acclaimed book “#Girlboss.” “’#Girlboss’ is a must-read for young women looking for inspiration and empowerment. For me, the main take-away was that we are all on our own personal journey, but the only way to progress is to work hard, and listen to your instincts,” said FSU 2015 alumna Jaclyn Daley. Amoruso’s honesty and colorfully explicit advice is hilariously entertaining. She even gives advice on how to land a job working for Nasty Gal. Um, yes please! Where do I apply?
If you’re looking for a clever, funny, exciting, surprising and tragic book, end your search. “Looking for Alaska” encompasses all of those things. Prepare to immerse yourself in the life of Miles, a high school junior attending boarding school in Alabama. While away at school, he falls deeply in love with a slightly manic, pixie dream girl named Alaska. Aside from the drinking, pranks, chain smoking and sex advice, John Green paints the lives of these teenagers as something very real. “Looking for Alaska” teaches about love, loss, redemption, guilt and friendship all at once.
You may never know what you can take from the wild until you actually go into it (and hopefully return). In 1990, a recent college graduate named Chris McCandless burned all of his money, stopped communicating with his family, changed his name and hit the western United States looking to escape from his life. McCandless made it to Alaska in 1992 and survived off the Alaskan bush for a little over 100 days until he perished from eating poisonous bacteria from a plant. Working to untangle the reasons he disappeared, Journalist Jon Krakauer turned McCandless’ story into a book. In “Into the Wild,” Krakauer talks about McCandless’ family life, impressive education and his passion for the outdoors. “I found it very inspiring because it’s a story about a young person who seems to have everything in life, but still has to search for more,” 2013 FSU alumna Katie Haggerty said. “I think most people can relate to that feeling and can learn and grow from Chris’s experience.”
As far as we know, we can’t erase the past. No, that double cheeseburger you ate for dinner last night won’t go away with the snap of your fingers. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao“ follows a “fat ghetto nerd” named Oscar Wao through the eyes of his college roommate, Junior. As Junior narrates Oscar’s struggles of figuring out his own identity, he also tries to grapple how Oscar’s past has impacted his life. Many of Oscar’s misfortunes are blamed on an ancient curse called the Fuku that can only be destroyed by the Zafa. “One of the reasons it is really inspirational is because of the beautiful way it’s written, and the way its chapters are structured. I think it’s really important to think about how to move forward, make things better, and work for a way to recognize and begin to repair the wounds of the past,” Evergreen State junior Zoe Wright said.
“In Let the Great World Spin,” author Colin McCann weaves together several different lives of unique New Yorkers, including an Irish immigrant, a prostitute, an artist, a judge and a mourning mother. Their hardships differ, but they all have one thing in common—they’ve all seen the mysterious Twin Tower tight-roper, who tightropes between the two towers in 1974. The characters’ lives are brought together by coincidence and misfortune. “Let the Great World Spin“ upholds that in the end, everyone and everything connects, and that fate makes the world go round.
In “Left to Tell,” Immaculee Ilibagiza recounts her life during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Ilibagiza tells of her family’s brutal murders, and how she came to forgive her family’s killers. Reading Ilibagiza’s story takes you right into the tragedy. “What impacted me most about [Left to Tell] was that through the despair of losing most of her loved ones, Ilibagiza still managed to come out with a positive outlook. She chose happiness and mercy by forgiving the men responsible for the deaths of her parents and brothers,” University of North Florida senior Stephanie Joost said. “It puts things in perspective when you realize you’re reading a story like this as you lie in bed safe and sound.”
“Of Mice and Men” follows two friends George and Lennie as they travel through California looking for work on a farm. George, often short-tempered, acts as Lennie’s protector, as it’s clear Lennie has a mental disability. “’Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck inspired me to work with special needs people as well as support their caretakers. Lennie helped me realize that all humans have dreams and all just want to be understood,” Penn State senior Annie McGuinness said. Through the experiences of life and death, Steinbeck shares the harsh realities about human nature. “[I] hope to let people with disorders be able to accomplish all their dreams and help them to realize a full potential,” McGuinness said.
Even though readers tend to get more detail from actually reading the memoir than seeing Julia Roberts gallivant through India in the 2010 movie, this story spoke to audiences. In “Eat, Pray, Love,” author Elizabeth Gilbert reveals the hardships in her marriage and the struggles of getting a divorce, while also taking the reader across the globe to Italy, India and Brazil where she finds love once again. “I like the message of self discovery, and that at any age, it’s never too late to reinvent a new life for yourself. [It helped me] to take chances and to do things for my own personal enjoyment rather than to please others or to fit an expected mold of what in life is suppose to make you happy as a woman,” said FSU senior Carla Badame. “Eat, Pray, Love” may influence you to travel the world and find yourself, or maybe you’ll just crave a lot of different ethnic foods.
Lois Lowry tells us in this book what we college students want to hear most: “Let your freak flag fly.” She paints readers a utopian society through the eyes of a boy named Jonas. However, Jonas learns that this society is actually far from ideal when he meets the Giver, aka the town’s “Receiver of Memory.” The Giver shares the town people’s emotions and memories with Jonas. Jonas soon realizes that his neighbors sacrificed their individuality to live in this illusion of perfection and be controlled by others. “I remember it making me feel like even though you’re told what to do in your life, that sometimes the utopia isn’t so perfect,” University of Central Florida junior Giorgy Molano said. “That the real way to find happiness is doing what feels right to you. Because at the end of the day, it is your life and no one else’s.”
Check out 10 more Inspiring Books for College Students
Written by Rosie Forster
11. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Every single teenager feels underappreciated and lonely at some point, so feel the angst with Holden Caulfield. “I was a f—ked up teenager,” University of California Los Angeles senior Manj Daniel said. “It made me feel understood.” Holden Caulfield has inspired legions of teenagers with his moody prose that hits you with adolescent nostalgia. Follow Holden as he travels around New York and broods in a way every teenager (and most college students) can relate to.
12. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Time to get real: so many college students struggle with body image issues and feel pressured to conform to society’s ideal standards of beauty. In her memoir, Roxane Gay examines how she takes care of herself and her body in a world which often doesn’t accept her. The honesty of Gay’s writing can face you with some brutal confrontation, but will resonate with so many college students. In a world where you can find it incredibly difficult to accept yourself, look to Gay for advice on how to go about it.
13. Bluets by Maggie Nelson
When you hit rock bottom, look to Bluets, a lyrical essay that will remind you that even at rock bottom, you have nowhere to go but up. This essay explores love and suffering with beautiful prose and painfully relatable quotes. For example, Nelson writes, “I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.” If you go through a college breakup in the future or deal with homesickness, read this book and feel less alone. “Sometimes you’ve got to feel bad,” Macquarie University sophomore Georgia Chahoud said. “You’ve just got to do it.”
14. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single college student in possession of this book must be in want of changing their life,” said Jane Austen (more or less). Once you read this book, you will want to adopt all of Elizabeth Bennet’s witticisms, regardless of your gender. In addition, Mr. Darcy’s silent brooding will remind you of the frat boy you met a few weeks ago who is now ghosting you, because he thinks he’s a stud and has found a good way to get your attention. Enjoy the frivolity, the hilarity and the etiquette of Regency Era England. Learn why Jane Austen garnered so much attention in her time and how she continues to make an impact on society today.
15. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book will make you long for your childhood again. When the pressures of college life threaten to overwhelm you, take a trip to the world’s most mysterious circus. Follow Celia and Marco as they play a game of magic against the backdrop of an entirely black-and-white circus. The black-and-white scenery may seem monochromatic, but the colorful characters will make you wish this place existed from the bottom of your (now black) heart.
16. Naked by David Sedaris
No, this book doesn’t contain nudes of David Sedaris, so don’t worry. This collection of short stories examines life from Sedaris’ witty perspective, tackling issues such as families, weddings and deaths with a light touch. Sedaris’ trademark cynicism takes the sappiness out of any heartfelt moment, and provides a unique insight into the world at large.
17. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
If you like the Hulu adaptation (and even if you don’t), you will find reading the book will make you angry, amused and captivated. In a dystopian world where the government uses women as baby-making machines, Offred attempts to navigate and avoid being completely crushed by the Republic of Gilead. We live in a world where women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights, often get debated and questioned. This book examines the effects of the law on women and their wellbeing in a fantasy world that creepily exaggerates our real-world debates. The book also deals with an unreliable narrator and the nature of truth itself.
18. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
If you ever feel like life weighs you down, jump into this satirical fairytale of fencing, fighting, monsters, torture, revenge, escapes, true love and miracles. The book behind the cult movie contains sardonic and witty writing, but holds just as much heart. Escape into the pages as you cheer for Buttercup and Westley, and learn more about Fezzik and Inigo. If you don’t, that would be inconceivable.
19. Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Doctor Seuss
Personal story time: I recently received a copy of this book in the mail, from a family friend, along with a note that stated, “This book got me through a lot of hard times. I hope it can help you.” When I read it, I felt seen and understood, the same way many people feel when they read this book. Reading this will make you realize that the world exists on a larger spectrum than whatever you go through at any given moment. Sometimes it seems hard, but it shapes you into the person you want to be. Read this book whenever you feel down and understand that even though college can get tough, all the hard work prepares you for all the places you’ll go.
20. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This story combines science-fiction concepts with beautiful prose and incredible story-telling. From the perspective of Kathy, we see an idyllic private school with a dark secret. This story will change your perspective on certain ethical issues (I can’t go into detail here because of spoilers) and combines a frightening dystopia with the gorgeous nostalgia of childhood. I guarantee you’ll come to a spot in the book where you’ll either stare at the pages in shock or throw it out of the window in horror.
Check out some of our literature themed shop items below
**Updated on January 3, 2018 to include items 11–20 by Rosie Forster.