Good Reads: Recommended Books for College Freshmen

Recommended Books for College FreshmenI can't say I have too many memories from when I was very young, but there is one that is still crystal clear for me. It was the day I actually learned to read. The day something "clicked" in my brain and the foreign squiggles on a page all came together and magically transformed into words that I could understand. I was in my grandmother's living room, and the book was Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. I remember being so incredibly excited. It was like I'd just unlocked a whole new world. And I had. Since that very day, reading has been a huge part of my life, and hardly a day goes by where I don't spend at least a few minutes reading. However, whether you are a bookworm or not, there are some books that I would highly recommend for those entering their first year of college.

College is also like unlocking a whole new world. It is incredibly exciting, but it requires a lot of adjustments and comes with a really steep learning curve. Therefore, it can be really helpful to arm yourself with the wisdom of others who have lived through and survived the college experience.

With that in mind, here are a few highly recommended books for college freshmen, chosen by me and organized by theme:

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1. Reading for Wisdom

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

This inspiring gem was written by the late Randy Pausch, a college professor who was invited to take part in a series of lectures where highly acclaimed academics were asked to think about what wisdom they would want to impart on students as their final deathbed words.

The professors must have had to put themselves in a bit of a morbid mental space, but it proved to be a launching pad for some truly genius advice.

Pausch's book is based on the captivating lecture he gave in September 2007, entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," which ended up having an even greater impact since Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a month before the lecture.

The book bulks up the concepts from the lecture and was written with the intent of providing his daughters with all of the wisdom and lessons he wanted to pass on to them before his death. (He was given a prognosis of "three to six months of good health" at the time of his diagnosis.)

Pausch died in 2008, but the book stands as his legacy and is a truly inspiring read that is a must-have on your college freshman reading list for 2013.

2. Reading for Laughs

The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen

This book hits a home run for presenting a well-balanced mix of humor and advice.

Harlan Cohen, an author and syndicated advice columnist for teens and young adults, walks you through common college issues like surviving dorm life, coping with homesickness, managing money, dealing with relationships, and avoiding pitfalls such as excessive drinking. However, thanks to his boundless wit and humor, you'll be able to soak up his advice without being reduced to tears of boredom.

3. Reading for Health

Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! by Janet and Greta Podleski

This has become one of my most treasured books. For real. I bought the book years ago, yet I still use it on a weekly basis.

I went into college without a shred of cooking knowledge and was utterly unprepared to feed myself anything but high-calorie, fat- and salt-laden, pre-packaged food. The result was dismal. Not only did I pack on pounds, but I constantly felt tired and lethargic.

Eating well not only keeps you fit and healthy and wards off the dreaded "Freshman 15," it provides you with the energy and capability to focus on your studies and achieve your best results.

Whether you are a beginner or a pro cook, I highly recommend this book. It was the first cookbook I ever bought when I decided it was time to finally gain a bit of culinary prowess instead of gaining pounds. And I couldn't have chosen a more perfect initiation into cooking. The recipes taste so amazing that you would never know they were healthy. Even better, the vast majority of them are simple, straightforward, and really fast. And be sure to read the margins—cooking tips, jokes, exercise advice, nutritional facts, and more can be found on every page.

Plus, I'll admit that the ridiculous and cheesy names—for example, "The Great Pretenderloin," "Wok This Way," "Dilly Beloved," and my all-time favorite, "Darth Taters"—make me happy.

4. Reading for Self-Improvement

How to Win at College by Cal Newport

I've never been big on "self-help" books. It's not that I'm closed-minded toward advice and wisdom; it's that unless something has an actual story, my eyes glaze over and my mind goes elsewhere. I tend to lean toward self-help books that come in the form of autobiographies.

That being said, How to Win at College is definitely an exception that proves the rule for me and is a good book for college freshmen to have on-hand. Newport (a Dartmouth College graduate who also holds a PhD in computer science from MIT and is currently an assistant professor at Georgetown University) has compiled advice and insight from some of the top students across the country. Together, they provide sound—if unconventional—strategies for success like "drop classes every term," "don't do all of your reading," and "care about your grades, ignore your GPA." This book is a smart, helpful read that has the potential to help you stay at the top of your academic game.

I'd also recommend checking out Newport's blog, Study Hacks, which is a continually growing source of information and inspiration relating to all things academic.

5. Reading for Pleasure

A Song of Ice and Fire the series by George R.R. Martin

Reading for PleasureMost versions of the "college freshman reading list – 2013" don't include non-academic books to be read simply for the fun of it. But in my mind, everyone needs a bit of downtime in their schedule. Plus, with all of the dry, academic reading you will be required to take on, reading something for pleasure can be a welcome treat. Therefore, I do have one recommendation that is simply for your entertainment.

You may not recognize the book series title, A Song of Ice and Fire, but chances are you have heard about HBO's smash hit television series Game of Thrones.

As great as the highly acclaimed and hugely popular show is, it doesn't hold a candle to the series of books it is based on.

Five books have been released to date:

  • A Game of Thrones
  • A Clash of Kings
  • A Storm of Swords
  • A Feast for Crows
  • A Dance with Dragons

At least two more books are due to be released in the future. And I honestly don't know how I'm going to survive the wait. I have read hundreds of books in my life, yet A Song of Ice and Fire has fast become my favorite series EVER. These books have literally brought to life an entire world, culture, and people with no details overlooked.

The pace is relentless—without any slow spots or "boring filler" to muddle through. The twists and turns are beyond shocking, and it is best not to become too attached to any character, main or otherwise. (Not that you will have a choice; the character development is flawless, and you will both love and hate characters as you never have before.)

I must warn you though: Do not start this series if you have anything too important or time-consuming in your near future. The books are utterly impossible to put down once you have started them!

There's nothing like that new book smell…

I hope at least a few of these books make the trip to college with you and bring you help, health, and happiness.