Categories: College Life

Non-Syllabus Books Every College Student Should Read

Not everyone loves to read. Personally, I can’t get enough of it. Then again, I am an English major, and am therefore forced to read books to earn a degree. Even I can admit that some assigned books are a hassle to get through. Here are ten non-syllabus books that might just change your view on reading:

1. Queenie by Candice-Carty Williams

Queenie is the perfect book to get you into reading. The plot is easy to follow, the language is modern, and the characters are fun and gripping. Though Queenie is a somewhat unreliable narrator, she is utterly compelling. The book is written conversationally, as though you’re Queenie’s confidant. While the story is mostly lighthearted, it sheds insight on important social issues, such as the fetishization and othering of Black women. This book is popular at the moment, so you’re sure to find it at any bookseller.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

If you’re challenging yourself to read a classic, Dorian Gray might be a good place to start. For those that don’t know, The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a young man whose beauty is immortalized in a painting. No matter how many years pass, he remains looking the same as he did in the portrait. The language Wilde uses isn’t too complicated, which is often what turns people away from classic books. I personally love Wilde’s prose; the way he plays around with language is so clever, and his wit still holds up today. 

3. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Personally, I’m not a big fan of memoirs. I think my reason for disliking this genre is that it’s run by celebrities. In many cases, famous people will sacrifice good writing for publicity and sales. Crying in H Mart completely changed my opinion on memoirs. With any nonfiction book, I usually expect half-decent writing and a dull account of some life experience. However, Zauner’s writing kept me hooked. Zauner takes us through a series of harrowing events she’s endured, from losing her mother to coming to terms with her identity as a Korean American woman. I recently learned that this is Zauner’s debut book, and I would’ve never known—her writing is gorgeous. I challenge you to not cry while reading this. 

4. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

You might be more familiar with one of Moshfegh’s other works, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. That is the ultimate sad girl book. Eileen, on the other hand, is the ultimate unhinged girl book. I love this book for how slimy it is. Eileen follows a deeply insecure young woman as her fascination with one of her co-workers turns into obsession. Chaos ensues from there. Moshfegh is such a fantastic author because she makes even the scummiest, most unsympathetic characters entertaining and—dare I say—relatable.

5. The Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan

I can’t tell you why, but I hate romance novels. Crazy Rich Asians is the exception. If you’re a fan of the movie, I highly suggest you read this trilogy. These books have it all: charming characters, beautiful imagery, fast-paced plots, witty one-liners, and best of all, love stories that won’t make you gag. 

6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This is the blueprint for dark academia literature. The Secret History is a delightfully twisted read with an equally delightful and twisted cast of characters. The plot focuses on the (partial spoiler?) murder of a member of a tight-knit, elitist group of students. Similar to The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Secret History explores the wickedness in beauty and knowledge. Be warned: it’s almost 550 pages long. Don’t let the page count intimidate you…this is the sort of book you need to take your time reading. There’s no rush! 

7. Bunny by Mona Awad

The Secret History walked so Bunny could run. In terms of the setting and cultish vibe, they’re essentially the same book. Somehow, Bunny manages to be even darker and stranger. Awad’s Bunny features a clique of ultra-feminine creative writing students, who affectionately refer to each member as “Bunny.” When newcomer Samantha joins the group, she discovers the horrors that lie under all the pink and frills. The best way to describe this book is Heathers-meets-Secret History-meets-Stranger Things. 

8. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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If you want to know what good writing looks like, read All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr is a genius with language. He crafts a fictional, dual-perspective story on World War II, and of the children who witnessed its horrific events. Doerr’s use of metaphors is beautiful…I seriously can’t get over it. This story will stick with you for a long time. 

9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is another classic that you’ll actually enjoy reading. Though written in 1982, The Color Purple is still impactful today. Celie, the protagonist, gives us a firsthand account of her life as a queer Black woman in the early 1900’s. We watch Celie forge her own identity, persevere through traumatic events, and explore her sexuality. If you like this book, I recommend you listen to the Broadway soundtrack. The music perfectly captures the power of Walker’s writing.

10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Is this a kid’s book? Technically, yes. Will I still suggest it to college students? Absolutely. The Little Prince remains at the top of my list of recommended books. If you’re unfamiliar with the classic story, it recounts the journeys of a young, otherworldly prince who ends up stranded in a desert. What makes The Little Prince relevant for college-aged readers is the maturity of its themes. For 90-some pages, Saint-Exupéry ruminates on the meanings of love, loss, and growing up. It’s a great reminder that we don’t have to completely abandon our childhoods as we get older. 

Please keep in mind that some of these books may have triggering content, so research them more before you read them. I hope you enjoy whatever book you choose…happy reading!

Share this article with your book-loving friends, and see what else they recommend!

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Jill Schuck

Hi everyone! My name is Jill, and I'm a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. There, I'm studying creative writing and sociology, with plans to work in publishing. Aside from reading and writing, I enjoy traveling and practicing self-care. If you want to connect, follow my Instagram @jillschuck!

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