This is an annotated list of books I bought my freshman year of college (2009-2010). Some of these books I loved and some I grew to love after a few years and lots of beer (looking at you, Faulkner). But others I hated but read because I felt like I needed to be a “cool girl” and read male writers and let go of my tired girly things. It was of course internalized misogyny, but I wasn’t yet aware of that. So I kept picking up books about men, books that I hated, in the hope that it would make me the person I thought I should be.
- Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I’m not sure why I became obsessed with reading Kerouac, but probably because of the references littered through Gilmore Girls and the general aura of cool guy it represented to me. I hated On the Road from the second I opened it (I just can’t care that much about the woes of white dudes). I hated the representation of women and the better than thou attitudes and mostly the fact that it bored me to tears. But I read every single word of the book, determined to become more cultured, cooler, a little more masculine. I took notes in my first ever moleskine notebook, hoping culture would sift through the air in my hometown to me my first summer home from college. Even after I hated it, I bought a ton more Kerouac: collected novels, an expanded edition of On the Road, his haikus (which I actually do still love: probably the best dose to enjoy Kerouac in).
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson. I don’t know why I wanted this book, I really don’t. My favorite books all had women heroines (though they were very problematically white at the time) and involved plucky bookish girls or ghosts or Elizabeth Bennet. But I had started straightening my hair, cut myself some blunt bangs, wore way too much eyeliner and bought a moto jacket on ebay. I couldn’t like Jane Austin, that was for “not cool” girls. So I got Fear and Loathing for Christmas, only making it through a few chapters before abandoning it for some girly book I’m sure I disguised behind a book cover. I respect Thompson has a journalist, but I just couldn’t make myself care about his so called adventures.
- Surprisingly, maybe, I was a history major. When I arrived at college, not understanding what college level history was, I felt like I needed to know everything. So I bought The People’s History of the United States, a decent enough intro text, though it’s a little dated now. I was getting my liberalism in the form of a behometh paperback that I felt I needed to finish cover to cover to become a “real” history major. It’s an enjoyable intro text, but not something I needed to use as a barometer of my success in college.
- Like many insufferable college kids before me, I took a bunch of Philosophy classes my freshman year. I even thought I might major in it, before skipping out in my Sophomore year so I could take more women’s studies courses. I was taking a class called Themes in Existentialism and I had no idea what was going on, though I payed attention and did all my reading. We were assigned hundreds and hundreds of pages by people like Sartre. I’m not sure if my classmates were faking it (probably) or just understood, but I felt like I was the only one out to sea. So on my very first trip to New York City (I took a greyhound from my college in Philadelphia) I went to the Strand and bought Existentialism is a Humanism, a tiny lecture based book of Sartre’s. I figured maybe I could understand it in very brief form. I couldn’t, but I still have the book on my shelf to remind myself of the tiny, hip, philosophizing girl I was.
- Barack Obama’s books. I couldn’t vote in the 2008 election (turned 18 the next year) but I went hard for Barack Obama. I was one of those kids who was enamored with him, thinking he could fix the country. It was the first time I was really engaged and I wanted to know everything about this man. I had baseball caps and shirts and lawn signs and I even hoarded 7 eleven coffee cups with his name on it. But I read both Dreams From My Father and the Audacity of Hope cover to cover, highlighting and marking up bits here and there. 10 years on, I still think Dreams From My Father is a hell of a book (and even more interesting since he wrote it while pretty young) but why I forced myself to read his polemic I have no idea. I felt like to be all in, to support Obama, I had to do everything. But I don’t. I loved Hilary, but I definitely stopped after the wedding in her first book and haven’t gone any further.
- Ernest Hemingway. Again with the man books. I just couldn’t care about men being miserable and not having sex and hot girls doing things. Hemingway always came off as whiny to me. But thanks to Gilmore Girls, whose writers seem to think college kids only read Ernest Hemingway, I felt like I really needed to read him to be smart and worldly. So I tried and tried. I got his short stories (which were okay) and Farewell to Arms which I hated and The Sun Also rises which I hated but I still thought I just needed to find the right book, because I was smart after all, and smart educated people read Ernest Hemingway. Now I know he was weird and sexist and honestly I like my sentences complex and my female characters even more so.
- William Faulkner. I’m not going to hate on Faulkner. He’s one of my favorite writers. But, as with Hemingway, I decided I must unilaterally love and admire him to be a real college reader. I knew little about Faulker’s South or his writing style or why I should invest in a nice edition rather than my coffee stained copy of The Sound and the Fury. I just didn’t get it, and I didn’t appreciate the writing. Many years, books, and cups of coffee later, I love and admire Faulkner. But not because I made myself read his work at 17. (And I’m not saying a 17 year old can’t love and understand Faulkner: I just couldn’t).
- Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty came out my freshman year of college. This is definitely one of those books that I read hidden away in my dorm room, though I loved them so much. I saw a lot of myself in the annoying, whiny, and lovable heroine. McCafferty’s earlier Jessica Darling books came out before the wave in YA literature, pre-Twilight and Hunger Games et al and I found them SO relatable as I finally escaped my hometown.