A Book List for College Students

I didn’t read much my first few semesters in college, even though I thought I would. I brought two stacks of books with me, from dorm room to dorm room as three years passed, every year thinking I’d have the free time to read. Instead, I just kept studying, work, pubbing, and hanging out with friends. Until last semester, that is. I picked up a book over winter break and, with it, the reading began. Here’s a quick list of those books that I would recommend, and a quick description of the plot, specific reasons to read the book, and potential downsides to the books that I saw, just for your own reference. Let’s get going!

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

What it’s about: While not the most optimistic book in the world, it’s a perspective changer. The classic American view of North Korea is abbreviated as such: “They hacked Sony for The Interview,” “The South is lucky we were there to save them from communism,” and “Why not just nuke ‘em?” This book gently nuances those views. The true stories of several North Korean defectors are engaging and heartfelt but not meant to inspire pity. Instead, it is meant to inform its readers of the conditions, past and present, of the small hermit nation. While there is still hope that the two Koreas will be unified, it becomes clear through the book that it will be a long road until reunification can even begin.

Reasons to read this: If you want to expand your global perspective, are interested in Korean culture, and/or want to feel better about living in the free world, this is a book you should consider. It’s also a pretty easy read that you can pick up and put down as needed.

Downside: Some of the people who escaped don’t exactly get the happy ending, because that’s life. And that’s North Korea.

Get it here on Amazon!

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What it’s about: World War II has just ended. A battlefield nurse goes on a honeymoon with her husband, who she has been separated from since the War. Unfortunately, Claire slips, literally, through a hole in time and is transported to 18th century Scotland. She’s caught between times and struggles with surviving in a new era. Also, Claire’s new bae is pretty heroic. His name is Jamie and he’s the hottest bro at the MacKenzie castle. Trust me, I peaked at the screen caps of the Starz series. By the way, this is a Starz series, for those of you with a subscription.

Reasons to read this: There’s a lot of romance. And, by that, I mean sex. Just a heads up. It’s a wonderful adventure into far away Scotland. I would love to think this is how ye olde Scots lived. I haven’t seen anything yet that screams historically inaccurate.

Downside: The plot doesn’t grab my attention. To be fair, at the time of writing this, I haven’t finished this book. I got bored. It was a wonderful pull, but after 250 pages, I started putting it down for days at a time. I don’t really know what’s at stake, besides Claire ruining her 20th century marriage by marrying Jamie. There’re hints, maybe every 100 pages, about a revolution or some such. But if I have to endure 15 sex scenes (not even of the caliber of 50 Shades) to get to the action, I’d rather not.

Get it here on Amazon!

*Disclaimer: This is the first of a series and, therefore, I do fully intend on getting through it because I hear the rest of the books are bomb. Also, I don’t want to ruin the Starz series for myself.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

What it’s about: Bilbo is a hobbit. You’ve at least seen the commercials for Lord of the Rings, so I’m sure you’re familiar with these creatures. He goes on an adventure, to burgle, get lost in goblin tunnels, play a pivotal role in the slaying of a dragon, and return with a small, but sufficient, share of treasure. If you’ve ever felt small in an unfamiliar place (hello, college!), then this is a perfect story of an unlikely hero helping, even in small ways, to change the world. Heads up, you should definitely read The Lord of the Rings after.

Reasons to read this: You like fantasy. You like Middle Earth. You like reading. You have ever read anything.

Downside: If you’ve only seen the movies, and really liked them, this is probably not going to occupy you. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movies. I usually love seeing my favorite characters coming to life. But The Hobbit is the Bud Light of Tolkien’s works; it’s written so young students can keep up with it. It can be a plus for poolside reading, but if you’re looking for a challenge, go pick up Pillars of the Earth.

Get it here on Amazon!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

What it’s about: Cheryl lost her mother. She developed a dangerous addiction. She completely trashed her marriage. To walk away from her former life, she had to walk into a new one. Cheryl did this by trekking across the Pacific Coast Trail, by herself, something I would never do even if you paid me. Cheryl’s trials on her journey changed her, deconstructing her identity and healing the wounds left behind by those who had left her.

Reasons to read this: Since we are going through our own identity and life changes, this is a wonderful read for college students. This may be even more touching as we move closer towards graduation. This memoir was heartbreaking and poignant, especially when Cheryl wrote about her mother, and still managed to fit in some sexiness, but it’s ultimately the most uplifting read I’ve had since reading Leo Buscaglia.

Downside: I have to admit that I picked this up because of the movie. I cried so hard watching Wild that I needed to read it. This book obviously grabs the female reader faster than the male reader, and while men can certainly relate to this, this book’s marketing simply isn’t reaching those potential male readers. Hey, the only bad thing I have to say about this book is that the marketing team has typical problems.

Get it here on Amazon!

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

What it’s about: Antoinette was born a white Creole woman in Jamaica. She marries a man, who is never named. Heads up, you will hate him. He’s awful. He’s also Mr. Rochester. Yes, this is a prequel to Jane Eyre. And Antoinette must juggle several social and emotional issues during her tenuous marriage to the English gentleman. With undoubtedly feminist roots, the story of Antoinette meanders through genres of postcolonial and mental illness literature. It will also ruin Jane Eyre for you, in case you actually liked it in high school.

Reasons to read this: If you hated Jane Eyre as much as I did, you’ll love this. It’ll give you reasons to back up how much you hated Mr. Rochester and how blind Jane was to his nastiness (Get it? Blind?). That said, Wide Sargasso Sea is an excellent starting read to get into postcolonial literature, since most of us had to read Jane Eyre in high school. It tackles issues beyond abusive relationships, like racial and gender inequality and the problems that come with adjusting to a new culture. Not to mention severe mental illness. The crazy attic lady that sets Rochester’s mansion on fire could have had plenty of reason to do so, and if you’re curious, pick up this book.

Downside: It’s an understandably tough read if you can, in any way, relate to Antoinette—even if it’s just to the extent of a friend giving you a horrible nickname, like Bertha. A somewhat depressing read, Antoinette’s story won’t leave you with much to feel happy about besides Antoinette, by the end, finally taking a role in her own destiny.

Get it here on Amazon!


Hopefully, this abbreviated list is somewhat helpful to you and you find something to read when you’re avoiding your finals, capstones, or other end of the semester projects! Maybe these books will even entertain you into the summer, too. It’s good to pick up a book or two outside of school. Keeps you literate.

Enjoy the rest of your spring and summer McDaniel!

Cari, Peer Tutor

How to Read!

Location, location, location: You have to read 60 pages a night for the literature class you now regret taking. Reading in a quiet, comfortable location – such as your room, or in the library – will help make the experience a little more bearable.

from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kuriousoranj/

from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kuriousoranj/

Quietness is most conducive to reading effectively. Music is distracting! Humans cannot multitask (science has proven so). If you must listen to something, try Pandora’s “Classical for Studying” station. The soft, slow instrumentals won’t be as distracting as most other genres.

Reward yourself: after reading for a preset time or chapter number, take a break! Make sure to monitor your time wisely. If you choose to browse Facebook, after your break is up, don’t just close your laptop lid – put your laptop to sleep and keep it far away from you. Do the same with your phone: keep it charging on the other side of the room to avoid the temptation to check it with every little Instagram or email notification.

For the reading itself? Set up a schedule. Count how many pages you can read a night – 30 pages a night for four nights is far easier to handle than 120 pages in one night. Make note of the titles and first and last lines of chapters – these are incredibly important, the author chose to put them there for a reason. What meaning do they add to the text? Don’t be afraid to mark up books you own, either! Highlighters can be your friends.

Now, we all loved to hate active reading in high school, but it is necessary! If you know you will have an essay assignment for a book, and have a general idea of the topic, try collecting relevant quotes as you read. On an index card, sticky note, or word document, make note of the quote itself, page number, context within the story (e.g., “after the protagonist fights with her brother,” “before the library closes down,” etc.), and the importance of the quote itself. Does it reveal a character trait, demonstrate an important motif, etc.? This quote collecting will make essay writing much less painful.

If you find yourself struggling with reading a book you want to read for fun, having set goals can also help. Looking at the prospect of reading an 1100 page long book becomes drastically easier when broken down into tiny segments – the journey of a thousand pages begins with a single chapter!

For more reading and writing tips, don’t forget to come visit us at the Writing Center. Stop by and let us know what you’ve been reading!

-Summer, peer tutor

Think books are boring? Think again!

Books can offer some of the most exciting adventures of your life, if only you know where to look. A lot of students are biased against books because school assigned readings can seem forced and unnecessary. In reality, there are books that are as adventurous and lively as any movie or video game out there.

My favorite genre of books is mystery novels. I have always enjoyed solving riddles and puzzles, reading books such as Encyclopedia Brown from a young age. As I grew up I continued to read more complex mysteries. Agatha Christie (my favorite author), for instance, has written dozens of books and hundreds of short stories that feature sleuths like Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, who baffle their friends and solve crimes with ease. Sherlock Holmes, of course, is the most famous literary detective of all time. I love mystery books because I can play along, trying to solve the crime along with the detective; unfortunately, I almost never guess the criminal correctly.

Another exciting genre of books is action and fantasy. Often, college students assume that a book can never have action, because it only has words, and could never live up to the latest James Bond film. That could not be further from the truth! Not only are books amazingly active, but they also inspire popular movies and T.V. shows all the time: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones are recent examples of this phenomenon. These books kindle the imagination by combining reality with magic, triggering dreams of heroism and greatness.

After Thanksgiving, we are having a Book Swap at the Writing Center (Hill Hall 111). I encourage you to stop by, grab a book or two, and try out a new genre. Who knows? You might find one that excites even you!

Barnabas, peer tutor

Swap your books!

With all of the papers, exams, and other time-sucking assignments that inevitably accompany the end of the semester, it may be difficult to get excited about recreational reading. (In case you’ve forgotten, with your brain all muddled up with lit papers and math exams, recreational reading is reading you do for fun in this magical thing called free time.)

Here’s the thing: So much free time is coming! Believe it or not, we have less than a month left in the semester. When winter break hits, you’ll have time to do fun things, like reading! (Yes, reading is fun.)

So why not prepare? Luckily for you, a momentous event is rapidly approaching- the first ever McDaniel Writing Center Book Swap!

During the week after Thanksgiving Break, members of the McDaniel College community can participate in the “take a book, leave a book” system. We already have over 150 books!

How did we get so many already? Well, this past weekend, three peer tutors (including myself) went with the Professor A and his wife, Mrs. Professor A, to the Book Thing. It’s a magical place full of free books, with no strings attached other than they are not for resale. Pretty cool, eh?

We’ll be posting photos of some of our best finds to Facebook and Twitter up until the event begins, but here’s a preview:

Don’t have a book to swap, but want to snag something to read over break? Never fear! You have options! Receive a free book by:

1) Reigstering for our online scheduler while in the office,


2)  Following or liking the Writing Center if you don’t already, Facebooking or Tweeting a photo of yourself with your book, and then tagging the Writing Center in the post.

It’s so simple!

What if I have the opposite problem, you may ask? If you have books that you want to get rid of, and don’t want to acquire more, we also have options for you. Well, there’s really just one option, and that is: We want all of the books!


Yes, including yours. Even the ones the school bookstore rejected.

Now that we all understand what is going on with this book swap thing, there’s only one thing left to do- Join the Facebook event and tell your friends about it!

Hanna, peer tutor