A professor’s novel reading list

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Along with all the new freedoms of the first year of college, there are typically pangs of frustration, fear and just plain homesick-ness. After prodding countless English departments, we’ve come up with a novel list: three classic works that speak to the soul of a transitioning young adult.  It’s the perfect reading list for anyone that finds themselves adrift in new surroundings — whether on campus or not.

1. ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ by David Sedaris

In 27 short works, the author — made immensely popular by NPR — explores his family roots, while also noting how these memories affect his judgment in day-to-day struggles. “What our struggling freshman needs right now is a good laugh,” says  Rosemary Graham, professor of English at Saint Mary’s College of California. “If Sedaris’ hilarious account of his own struggle to adjust to a strange new world — in his case, Paris — doesn’t resonate, it will surely distract and entertain, which may be even better.”

2. ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison

“Invisible Man” is the classic tale of a young African-American’s search for identity amidst a sea of prejudices. Lars Larson, professor of English at the University of Portland, explains it this way: “Students, newly on their own and on the hunt for an identity they can live with — one that strikes a balance between independence and conformity, between maverick roughness and the sandpaper of socialization — will find an easy kinship with the nameless narrator.”

3. ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

A seminal work amongst tweedy sci-fi readers, “Darkness” presents a distant future where Earth is abusing female intellectuals while a species of sexless aliens have different but equally galling prejudices. “[The protagonist’s] adventures are concerned primarily with otherness,” says Davis Schneiderman, professor of English at Lake Forest College.  “He’s someone from the outside having to quickly and carefully navigate what seems to be a daunting set of foreign customs, norms and social codes.”


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