10 Books to Read During the Semester

It can be hard to read for fun during the semester, what with school, work, and extracurricular tasks. With this difficulty in mind, here are ten books that, for one reason or another, are the perfect books to read in the free moments that you have this semester.

  1. Nazi Literature in the Americas, Roberto Bolaño
    • This imaginative (fake) encyclopedia features short profiles of imaginary pan-American writers, detailing their lives and notable works. The final entry, which is also the longest, became the basis for Bolaño’s later novel Distant Star, and the “Epilogue for Monsters” is a useful index of the breadth and depth of Bolaño’s vision.
  2. Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges
    • The shortness of the stories, parables, and essays in this collection makes it easy to read between classes. However, Borges’s compression belies the cerebral nature of the pieces, which, I urge, should not be taken lightly. The perfect book for the millennial “intellectual.” Also, a college student reading Borges is automatically cool.
  3. Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky
    • The minimalism of Schalansky’s illustrations rival the lightness of her annotations, which capture enough of each island’s stories to entice the imagination, yet which never indulge the reader—a good thing, considering the time that you could lose reading about each of Schalansky’s islands. Schalansky’s Atlas also comes in a “pocket” version, making it both portable and super hip for the on-the-go college student.
  4. Please Look After Mom, Shin Kyung-Sook
    • A longer work on this list, though not overlong at 272 pages, Please Look After Mom is a fluid read, presented in five easily digestible sections with an exciting 2nd-person narration. The writing is affective without being affected and does not suffer from the artificialness of works in translation.
  5. Citizen, Claudia Rankine
    • Aside from the fact that you, as a culturally-conscious member of an often dubiously-conscious society, should read this winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, Citizen is slim enough to slip between your planner and your calculus textbook—though I’m guessing that you won’t be tucking this one away until you’ve finished it.
  6. Night, Dawn, Day, Elie Wiesel
    • Though they’re not the happiest, you’ll nonetheless breeze through these books, if only because of their innate gravity and propulsive force. Night, in particular, will project you, as if you were weightless, through to final sentence of the trio, from the darkness of night to the equal darkness of a tepid sun. (Gross. Did I really just write that sentence?)
  7. Saturday, Ian McEwan
    • Saturday takes place over the course of one day, which, by a conservative estimate, is the longest it will take you to finish this well-paced novel. It also features prose from one of the cleanest and graceful stylists writing today. McEwan’s command of a foreign medical language is as natural, and as trenchant, as if it were his own.
  8. This is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz
    • I had the privilege of attending a lecture that Díaz gave at the university in 2013. His prose maps perfectly onto his personality, though this comes across of its own accord in the short stories of this collection. Light, but never insubstantial, reading for the busybody college student.
  9. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
    • Never as simple or as one-dimensional as its detractors make it out to be, The Old Man and the Sea is a literary goldmine. Themes ripe for interpretation include: individualism, symbiosis, the feminization of the sea (contrast with the gendering of the sea in Moby-Dick), the artistic/creative process, and the allusive co-termination of religion and the secular. And, of course, the lions on the beach.
  10. Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
    • A petite book, consisting of visionary descriptions of various cities by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, Invisible Cities is as much about language and meaning as it is about cities, and then some.