How to Approximate the College Experience in 10 Books

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Disclaimer: we think you should go to college, if you can swing it. But sometimes it seems (especially in the media) that the college experience is just wave after wave of useless information cresting up out of a sea of cheap beer. So we’ve narrowed the whole four years down into ten essential books that will get you to the same place, only perhaps a little drier. If you aren’t going (or going back to) college this fall and wish you were, this list might just tide you over. And if you are, it’s sure to give you a leg up. Click through to check out our (tongue in cheek!) list of ten books that approximate the college experience, and let us know which you’d add or take away in the comments.

The Norton Complete Shakespeare , William Shakespeare

Yes, the complete Shakespeare is a necessity. Though this may seem like a die-hard English major choice, it’s perfect for the starry-eyed freshman, hoping to inhale the whole of human history in one go: enormous, cloth-bound and reeking of Serious Academic Study.

Things Fall Apart , Chinua Achebe

A classic of anti-colonialist literature, but complicatedly written in the language of the oppressor, this novel about the Igbo of southern Nigeria at the beginning of their experience with Western colonization is a primer on issues of cultural perception and relativism. It might or might not help you deal with all the new people you’ll be meeting.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything , Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Telling people about the ideas you read about in this book may or may not approximate the feeling of sitting around in a dorm room with a bunch of friends as you all pontificate to one another and drink Franzia, depending on who you’re talking to. But it’s worth a shot. You’ll probably feel as good, even if they don’t.

Jesus’ Son , Denis Johnson

This will be the book that all the kids smoking cigarettes outside the library will be talking about. Walk around with a paperback copy poking out of the pocket of your tweed blazer for a while and see how it feels.

Understanding Comics , Scott McCloud

It’s not just about comics — this book is better than any intro art class you could hope to take. Its lessons on the way we read visual signals will change the way you view the world. Also, it’s hilarious.

High Fidelity , Nick Hornby

The first thing anyone asks you when you meet freshmen year at college is what kind of music you listen to, and proceeds to judge you from there. Hornby’s protagonist Rob will judge you where you sit as well, though you’ll be spared any admissions, and after reading (and a little extra curricular research), you’ll be better positioned to impress the next faux music snob you come across.

Hitchcock , François Truffaut

Many of the best college classes ask you to take each subject out of a vacuum and see how they might function when faced with each other, and this epic book-length conversation between two of the greatest filmmakers of all time certainly fits the bill. Plus, you don’t have to be a film major to have a serious Hitchcock phase. You might have to be a film major to have a serious Truffaut phase, though.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen R. Covey

Now don’t get us wrong, we definitely wouldn’t characterize most college students as ‘highly effective people’ — or at least not necessarily. However, college is really only marginally about your studies. Most of it is all about developing your social skills and getting a handle on your own personality, as well as learning how to learn and manage your time, all skills that will serve you greatly in the real world.

Atlas Shrugged , Ayn Rand

For many, college is a time of ultimate selfishness — no parents, free flowing booze, limited consequences in a safe environment, no one to be responsible to but yourself — and if you have any doubts about your new lifestyle, you may need someone whispering in your ear that selfishness is okay, even superior, to other ways of being. That person is Ayn Rand.

The Complete Kama Sutra , Alain Daniélou

You all know what happens at college, and this is (sort of) what all the fuss is about. And this way, you can read about sex while also seeming multi-cultural and interesting! Best of both worlds!