If you ask what college students are reading, you’ll find most of their to-be-read stack filled with required textbooks and the classics. We like pairing the good-for-your-edification classic novels and memoirs with a compatible contemporary book, something a little different that might help you see the older story with fresh eyes. Make a visit to your campus library or bookstore and plunge into our satisfying spring reading list for college students.
Readalikes for Your Spring College Reading List
Each of our recommendations for your college reading list starts with a likely assigned book. We include books that are compelling to a wide cross-section of college-bound and current students. All are either memoir or fiction, and they’re classics for a reason. They require deep concentration and for you to slow down, think, maybe learn some new words, and experience the narrative. Not all are a breeze to read. They demand your undivided attention and can help you strengthen the discipline you need to succeed in college.
For our companion reads, we depart from the classics but keep them well within sight:
- The companion book is not a retelling, prequel, or sequel, but an unexpected accompaniment that will enrich your experience of the classic.
- Parallels abound between the classic and the contemporary, but the modern companion books explore the topics of our time (race, love, family, violence, mental health, global disasters) in a more urgent way than the classics.
- Readalikes allow you to compare the treatment of a similar topic or excavate the ways certain tropes of the genre have developed and changed in modern publishing.
- Some readalikes act as an escape hatch, with the assigned classic serving as a gateway to a less “important” work far outside of the canon, but one that can elevate your understanding and enjoyment of the assigned read. And vice versa.
Race in America
BLACK BOY by Richard Wright (1945)
This classic autobiography set in the Jim Crow South is a coming-of-age story centered on the realities of what it is to be a man, a Black man, and a Black man in a religious family in the South, where segregation stripped generations of families of their dignity and dreams.
HELL OF A BOOK by Jason Mott (2021)
This 2021 National Book Award winner takes an unflinching, but funny, look at American racism, police brutality and family from the point of view of an African-American author on a book tour to promote his bestseller.
- Consider the commonalities in the experiences of the main characters in these two books, separated by 70+ years but connected by a culture of color-based injustice.
The Dystopian Future
BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Perhaps the ultimate dystopian novel set in a disturbing future, this book has you pondering if a single hero can challenge the soul-killing powers that be.
NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
This dystopian novel, set in the ever-so-British backdrop of an elite boarding school in the countryside, tells the story of a creepy secret deeply affecting the lives of its students.
- This is a great read-along to Huxley’s book for a modern take on the implications of a loss of individuality and how technology can widen the class divide.
THE COMPLETE PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF GEN. ULYSSES S. GRANT by Gen. U.S. Grant (1885)
Widely considered the best autobiography in the genre and often assigned in literature, history, and management courses, Grant wrote this highly readable presidential memoir as he lay dying of throat cancer. It details his extraordinary life, with emphasis on the battles of the Civil War and vivid descriptions of his family background.
BETWEEN TWO KINGDOMS by Suleika Jaouad (2021)
A heartbreaking yet uplifting memoir of a battle within, this bestseller by a 20-something New York Times essayist is a candid saga of the writer’s cancer diagnosis just after college graduation, through illness and treatment, and her fight to reenter the world of the healthy.
- It makes an interesting readalike to Grant, allowing you to consider the choices of rhetorical devices, language, and each memoirist’s portrayal of heroism.
Rethinking the Patriarchy
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen (1813)
This beloved story of Elizabeth Bennett and the brooding Mr. Darcy is often referred to as a romantic novel of manners, but it is also a satire of a culture that seems to make women into ornaments whose only hope for the future requires the love and bank account of a willing man.
THE POWER by Naomi Alderman (2016)
This novel is a fantasy thriller (and gender satire) that questions if women held the power to cause pain and to control men, would they wreak havoc and abuse their physical superiority? Or in this imagined world, is it simply enough to know that they could?
- It’s a kind of weird but fascinating juxtaposition, pairing this uber-feminist book as a readalike to Jane Austen, whose world requires gentle feminine wiles (not fingers as shock weapons) to subvert a culture demanding ladylike subordination.
THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus (1947)
This existential classic could not be more appropriate for our pandemic times. It is a compelling and challenging story about survival and resilience in the face of a plague in an Algerian town, leaving survivors in a state of fear, isolation, and claustrophobia. Sound familiar?
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
Prescient and profound, this novel tells the story of survivors of a flu pandemic that leaves only one percent of humans alive worldwide. It’s told from the perspective of a teenager girl who is part of a traveling Shakespearean troupe.
- Reading these books in succession can illuminate how masterful writers handle the concept of catastrophe in different eras and in different settings. There are also metaphors and moments that will resonate with your own experience of COVID-19. (NOTE: Station Eleven is now a binge-worthy series on HBO Max).
The Road Not Taken
THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin (1899)
Protagonist Edna Pontellier is trapped in an unfulfilling marriage and proper Victorian life in turn-of-the-century New Orleans. This book shows her being pushed by isolation and desperation toward the unthinkable.
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig (2021)
Nora is trapped in a depression, with a dead-end job, miserable love life, and unfulfilled dreams. But through the gift of parallel lives, she is given a second (and thousandth) chance to rediscover why her life is worth living.
- An interesting pairing not only for the parallels between Nora and Edna, but also for the unspoken questions: Does the universe punish the unworthy and reward the good, and does our future hang by a single decision?
Reading Is Your Best Preparation for College
Researchers have found that the pandemic has affected students’ reading fluency by as much as 30 percent, which can impact academic development more broadly and interfere with your ability to learn other subjects as you progress through your education. USF’s Academic Success Center offers assistance such as tutoring, study-skills mentoring and writing resources. Check us out on the Tampa campus, St. Pete campus, or the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
About Leigh Perkins
Freelance marketing writer Leigh Brown Perkins firmly believes that building new skills and chasing new ideas should be a lifelong quest for all of us.