Why is encouraging college students to read so hard?
Students don’t read books anymore. Instead, they “waste” their time on social media, binge on box-sets, play video games and go out with friends. Personally, I think that sounds brilliant. They are living the dream, aren’t they? (I can’t remember the last time I did all four of those things in one week!) The forms of entertainment they pursue, though, do have one thing in common. They offer instant feedback and gratification. Books can do that too when chosen wisely. However, many college students don’t know which books will offer that short-term “buzz” which other media seems to offer so effortlessly. Encouraging college students to read is a challenge, but hopefully, a much easier one, once you’ve read the rest of this post!
I want to share with you something I’ve shared with my students over the years: I have a very limited attention span for reading books. I always have, but the key for me was not to just give up reading, it’s to read something else. When your students visit a bookshop or an online store like Amazon, they don’t know where to begin. This post is my attempt to shorten the list, to help students to choose a book, that is appropriate for their reading level, but that will stimulate their minds too.
Why should students read at all?
Of all the different forms of media, books offer students the highest quality. The best books are written by authors who have had polished their writing style to make it easily accessible. Their texts have been edited and re-edited to enhance the reading experience. When written well, they offer complete escapism. Books expand students’ experiences. Above all else, the quality control measures put in place by publishers ensure that only the best books get published. They are then reviewed and only when something is of high enough quality will it gain the attention of the masses. Oh, and books make you smarter, so encouraging the reading of books can only end well.
The same cannot always be said about some other popular forms of media. Video clips, blog posts (I include myself here) and the pseudo-journalism that seems to have invaded social media are all flawed in many senses. The result is, that if students only get their information about the world from unvetted and unedited sources, then they limit their experiences. But even worse, their idea of how the world is, or should be, can become warped. News intertwines with fake news. Celebrity endorsements take priority over rational thought. This can’t turn out well!
What books should my students read?
My students don’t read very much. In fairness, neither did I when I was their age. My reason was that I’d outgrown the children’s books I’d been reading but I had no idea where to look for books with a bit more grit. I’ve heard the same story from many students I teach. In the end, I usually recommend to them the same books year after year. This is my list. I hope you see some value in it. I won’t pretend that it’s “a list to end all lists”, in fact, it’s largely swayed by my own personal beliefs, political leanings and what I find interesting. It isn’t balanced and certainly isn’t complete!
I included a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts, but both serve the same purpose. They both teach us about ourselves and they both teach us the importance of contributing to the world. When you see the titles, this will be obvious in some cases, but perhaps not so much in others. My solution would be to read the book to find out why it made the list.
I’ve categorised these books so that if students want to read more about a particular topic, they can be directed straight to a relevant book. Some of these books are very accessible to pre-college students, but most students would need to be at least 16 years old to gain the most value from them.
(Please note that the author has used affiliate links in this blog that are not associated with CLA)
Fiction books for college students:
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell
A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Martian by Andy Weir
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Non-fiction books for college students:
Positive Mindset and Success:
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Winners by Alistair Campbell
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Law and Politics:
The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It’s Broken by The Secret Barrister
Chavs by Owen Jones
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Will It Fly? by Pat Flynn
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
Encouraging college students to read is a long game, so keep at it. Reading is one of the best ways to help students improve their understanding of themselves and of the world.
By the way, you might want to check out my post on 19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today.
Also, if you think I’ve left out something brilliant and that should be read by students, then you’re probably right. There’s a good chance that I haven’t read it, or I forgot to add it to the list. Just leave a reply at the end to let me know!
About the Author
Andy McHugh has been teaching since 2006 and writes about education, teaching strategies and assessment at https://www.teachingandlearningguru.com.
A version of this blog post was originally published here, and has been reproduced with permission.
His previous post on his Top 5 EdTech Tools of 2018 is a worthwhile read for any teacher navigating the world of EdTech.