When you think “classic literature,” what do you think of? The Great Gatsby? Of Mice And Men? Perhaps even The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? While these timeless tales certainly deserve a spot on the literary canon, odds are that you probably read all of these in high school. So, what “good books” are there left to read in college?
When I signed up to be an English major, I thought I would be spending my days wooing over Mr. Darcy and quoting Sylvia Plath — but, turns out, there are a lot more important (and intriguing) things to read about. I’ve read stories that have opened my mind to much more than just what was going on in nineteenth-century Britain. I’ve been taken across the world, into situations of poverty and suffering that I didn’t even know existed before I read these works. College is all about expanding your mind and figuring out how you can change the world — and if you want a little motivation to do both of those things, you definitely need to check out these five must-reads before you graduate:
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This hit novel, written by an African feminist extraordinaire, gives us a peak back into relations between Europe and Africa in the late twentieth century. While technically fiction, this story follows along with exactly what actually happened to many African families during this time period: they were brainwashed, stripped of their inherent cultures, and forced to conform to arbitrary British customs that tore families apart. Dangarembga raises questions about family relations, education, and cultural identities, all while giving readers a glimpse into the world she grew up in — full of oppression, prejudice, and propaganda.
Few books are more revealing than esteemed Egyptian feminist, Nawal El Saadawi’s, Woman At Point Zero. The story follows the life of Firdaus, a representation of a typical Egyptian woman, who suffers from heavy abuse and oppression from birth until her execution at the end of the work. Although the book was published in 1975, situations of misogyny similar to this still exist in Egypt and the Middle East today, so if you want to get a glimpse of what these women are experiencing, this is the novel that will take you there — and (hopefully) motivate you to help put an end to these injustices.
If you did read this one in high school, kudos to you — but if not, you must pick it up next time you pass by a bookstore. One of my personal favorites of all time, this novel explores human nature and society from the perspective of a British man following World War II. In the work, Golding’s characters, all young boys, become stranded on an island far from civilization, and must fight the monsters of the wild in an effort to stay alive in time to be rescued. What they don’t know, however, is that the only real monster may be hiding inside them — which may have been exactly what Golding was trying to convey about the deadly war he had just witnessed.
Oppression didn’t just take place in Africa in the late twentieth century — there were raging wars for cultural identity taking place right under our noses. This collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat shows readers what it was like living under a hostile government in Haiti, and how dangerous (and heartbreaking) it was to try to move to America, away from the tragedy. Readers will experience a little bit of Caribbean culture in these works, but it won’t exactly be the vacation you were hoping for.
In light of recent events, I wanted to add a book to this list that addressed the issue of race relations in the United States, and through the dozens of accounts I have read from the Civil War and segregation periods, nothing seems to get the point across better than this modern novel. The Alex Cross series is a collection of mystery/thriller books that follow the life of a black Washington, D.C. detective, Alex Cross — but this volume of the series is different. Without referencing the rest of the books, this novel takes readers back to the mid-twentieth century in the United States, where an esteemed lawyer has to fight against racial prejudice in a life-or-death case. If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird, this work takes it one step further, by showing just how unfair life really was for those with darker skin.
College is about discovery, and discovering yourself is only part of it. These books will expand your knowledge of global issues exponentially, and, if you’re anything like me, motivate you to make real change happen in the world. After all, nothing can show you the world like a good book.