Books You Can Brag About: Suggestions from the Student Caffé Staff

A group of smiling students talking about book suggestions.

michaeljung /

Going back to school after a summer away, or heading to college for the first time, leads to a crazy number of opportunities to have a conversation. Maybe you’re catching up with old friends or meeting new people your age and hoping to start up an intelligent conversation. You may be playing the dreaded icebreaker games, having dinner with all of the residents on your floor, or milling about on the quad in between planned activities. Having something to talk about other than the usual “my summer was great” is a smart idea, especially since that conversation gets old after the fifth time you’ve had it.

In order to break up the monotony, Student Caffé has a few book recommendations. Pick one (or three!) that sounds interesting, download it to your Kindle, and read for an hour every night before bed. You’ll be the life of the conversation in no time.

  • Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is actually a collection of many stories, all featuring the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, but the stories have held up over time and they really make you think. Not only are they fun to read and to try to figure out, since they’re mysteries, but the short stories are really manageable, so you don’t have to dedicate a whole day to reading. You can easily read one short story each night, or in between other books, and it doesn’t feel overwhelming at all. After reading them you’ll have more appreciation for both Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. -- Megan C.
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. If you’re ready to read a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Goldfinch is a great place to start. While its language is beautiful and descriptive, the plot itself is a whirlwind sure to entertain. It begins when 13-year-old Theo Decker and his mother visit an art museum, which is bombed right as they are about to leave. Injured and confused, Theo leaves the building and runs home with a priceless masterpiece under his arm. This coming-of-age story follows Theo and his stolen painting for the next decade, so college students and other young readers might find it particularly appealing. -- Gwen
  • What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell. Stay current with the book releases of 2016, and check out Garth Greenwell’s debut novel. It has already been hailed as a modern classic and a champion of queer contemporary fiction. The story opens in Bulgaria, a country not particularly welcoming to the LGBT+ community, where an American teacher of English meets Mitko, a young sex worker. The story twists sexuality, eroticism, and secrecy, and both the narrator and Mitko come to reveal parts of their pasts. The author has been open about his writing’s intent to normalize the experiences of the gay community, particularly the experiences, like sex work, that society ignores or condemns. “I’m a queer writer writing in the queer literary tradition for queer people. And because of those things, I hope this is a book for anyone,” said Greenwell in an interview with The Guardian. -- Gwen
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Published in 1937, this novel was an influential piece in African American literature and women’s literature. Set in southern Florida in the early 20th century, it chronicles protagonist Janie Crawford’s coming of age. Her story is told in her own words as she looks back on her life at age 40. Broken up into three major parts, each detailing one of her marriages, her story illustrates her pursuit of true and fulfilling love. The quest for love is a result of her strength, independence, and sense of adventure, all characteristics that make her a timeless heroine. When Zora Neale Hurston wrote this novel, African American women heroines were not popular in literature, and so this novel serves as an empowering piece for women, African Americans, and everyone. -- Katelyn
  • The All Souls Trilogy by Debra Harkness. In these historical fantasy novels, alchemical history professor Diana Bishop of Oxford University discovers a long lost manuscript in the Bodleian library. She is forced to confront the truth of her ancestry and the magic in her blood as she and her newfound love, a vampire named Matthew Clairmont, are hunted down by those who wish to find the secrets in the manuscript. Their adventures take them through Europe and even through time as they uncover the truth of all the history stories we learned about in school. The author is a historian and American scholar. Her book A Discovery of Witches (the first of the trilogy) is a New York Times best seller. -- Katelyn
    A girl holding a book and discussing it and her reading list with the boy sitting next to her

    Aaron Amat /

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. At the age of 36, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He was nearing the completion of his neurosurgery residency and was about to embark on a highly respected medical career. Confronted head-on by his own mortality, he decided to use writing to explore life’s greater meaning. This beautifully moving memoir was the product of his intellectual musings and reflections on the choices that led him from an undergraduate student obsessed with the intersection of philosophy and biology, to a doctor entrusted with the lives of his patients, to a father fostering new life as his faded away. Grab a tissue and prepare to dive into a book that will make you question your own choices and perspective on life. There’s a reason this one has ranked on the New York Times Best Sellers list for the last 29 weeks. -- Megan R.

Reading may not always be the “cool” thing today (though at Student Caffé we beg to differ), but books are never going to go out of style when it comes to education. Stay informed, stay conversational, and let the pages whisk you away to another world! Who knows, you might learn something in the process.

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