Author: Emily Agnew


No matter your major, school, or interests, there are certain books that every collegian should read to achieve a well-rounded education. To narrow down between all the amazing options, the six books below may be a good start. If you haven’t read any of the books on this list, go to a library right now.



1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


There’s no better book to embrace your inner angst than Salinger’s novel. Originally meant for adults, this book has transformed into a beloved coming-of-age novel amongst adolescents. The saga of Holden Caulfield’s bizarre experiences brings the reader on Caulfield’s journey of self-discovery. From Pencey Prep to the dilapidated Edmont Hotel, the novel explores themes of identity, loss, belonging and the struggles of growing up. There’s no better time to read this book than in college, as we confront so many of these issues almost daily.


2. Beloved by Toni Morrison


Morrison’s book Beloved chronicles the trials and struggles of coping with life post-slavery. Set after the end of the Civil War, the book is inspired by the story of Margaret Garner, an African-American woman who escaped slavery in Kentucky. The novel centers on Sethe, who is forced to come to terms with her past, when she is visited by the ghost of her dead child. Dedicated to “sixty million and more,” the book commemorates both the many individuals who died as a result of the slave trade and their descendants. A perfect read for Cornell students, as Morrison is a Cornellian herself. This novel engages the reader in this extremely intense and heartbreaking novel.


3. The Great Gatsby


Gatsby is a classic, providing a fun and interesting peek into the world of the upper class elites during the 1920s. Set in the fictional Long Island towns West Egg and East Egg, the novel focuses on Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic man obsessed with reuniting with his former love, Daisy Buchanan. The novel captures the exciting life of the roaring twenties through descriptive language. Through the observant eyes of Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor and Daisy’s cousin, Fitzgerald creates a vivid world of parties, jewels and extravagance. The parties thrown by Gatsby rival any frat party, and will probably make you wish you were born in a different era.


4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


This is one of my favorite books of all time, and I guarantee once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down. This novel captures the difficulties that African-Americans faced in the early 20th century. It focuses on an unnamed narrator, whose frequent disappointments and injustices lead him to feel marginalized and invisible. Though his excellence in public speaking earns him an invitation to attend college, he quickly becomes disenchanted by the racism he sees. He moves to New York, where he becomes swept up in not-so-well intentioned political organization known as the “Brotherhood,” which claims to help the socially oppressed. Filled with metaphors and symbolism, this book is an inspiring and enlightening classic. This novel teaches students the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs – a valuable lesson for all.


5. The Odyssey by Homer


The most epic of epic poems, this book is all about Odysseus’s journey home after the Battle of Troy. Based on Roman myths, the book chronicles the many experiences and trials he faces in trying to get home. From facing a menacing cyclops, to enchanting sirens, to suitors disrupting his own house, the journey is anything but easy. Though the language of this book is somewhat difficult, the obstacles and experiences Odysseus faces are intriguing and compelling. Plus, Odysseus’ home city is Ithaca – so his journey is basically the same as getting through Cornell.


6. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf


Woolf is anything but an easy author to read. However, her book Mrs. Dalloway is essential to any literary education, as the reflections and themes are thought-provoking and meaningful. The entire book is based on one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, as she gets ready to host a party in the evening. The vulnerability that Clarissa feels is particularly resonant, as we Cornell students often doubt our own abilities.  Zooming in and out of time and space, and between different characters, the novel captures the essence of doubt, trauma, and vulnerability in humanity.


Reading is a great way to escape to another world, and the books above are a great place to start. These six classics will provide you with endless dinner party conversations – and may even help you to impress your significant other’s parents.