As we approach the time of the year when students start trickling in to college campuses, decorating their dorm rooms with stuff from IKEA and Target and trying really hard to sound like they know what they’re talking about, many incoming freshmen are surely wondering what their new roommates will be like. And although the surveys schools use to match night owls and messy kids with others who share their habits may cover the basics, you can tell a lot more about a person by looking at the prized books they lug along with them to make sure their classmates can tell how cultured they are. Here are a few common picks, and what they say about the 18-year-old who loves them.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Your roommate read Infinite Jest over the summer? That’s cool. They will probably spend at least a semester talking about what a genius David Foster Wallace was, and how no writer since him can compare. You may or may not know whether that’s true, but rest assured that your new roommate probably didn’t do much over their summer break besides read this book. Let them talk all they want.
The White Album, Joan Didion
To be young and new to Joan Didion — what a thrill it must be. Everybody should have a little Joan in their life, and any book of hers is a great introduction. But if you’re an undergrad and you live with somebody who tells you they prefer The White Album over her other books, stay friends with that person for life. They have great taste and will never lead you astray.
Any book by Charles Bukowski
Bukowski’s fine, but be prepared to hear nothing but Tom Waits blasting out of this roommate’s computer speakers. Also, you will probably get in trouble because the RA is always smelling cigarette smoke coming from your room.
Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
Let’s not even talk about what to expect if your roommate calls The Catcher in the Rye their favorite book — you’re probably already well aware. But if an undergrad calls this Salinger book their favorite, you can expect to hear a lot of music with ukeleles and vocals that sound the way Zooey Deschanel talks.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
Less a stereotype and more of a pro tip: If this is your college roommate’s favorite book, make sure you use a black marker to track the descent of the liquid inside any bottle of booze you might procure (or just hide the bottle very, very well). Also: never loan this person any money.
Then We Came to The End, Joshua Ferris
Your roommate is either named Joshua (like the author) or Jonathan. He went on Birthright last year and thought it was a great experience, and he’s from the Scarsdale area.
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Your roommate makes a lot of backhanded comments about your life, but you also notice that your roommate doesn’t have many friends, save for some guy named Paul who you once heard say, “I’m not racist, but…”
Absalom, Absalom, William Faulkner
Your college roommate is the one who goes to the bar and orders a single-barrel whiskey — neat — while you and your other friends are looking for the cheapest beer or ordering “Jack and Coke.”
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
You immediately suspect that your roommate’s English accent isn’t real. A few days later, you start to suspect the same about their glasses.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
Either your roommate will never be late with rent, or they will soon stop paying rent altogether on the grounds that rent basically makes you an indentured servant.