College is a time of self discovery, and the exploration of ones mind. It is during these pivotal four years that students will lay the foundation for their career paths, and harvest the seeds of youth into mature plants of in-depth understanding, and preference toward all aspects of education. One important aspect of the cohesive development that students will experience intellectually in college can be rooted in literature. Here, we will discuss important findings and recommendations from various Cal Poly professors and students, describing why certain books are valuable and vital to the college mind.

Dean of Library Services, Michael D. Miller, said that his study has focused around media communication and technology, and found that the following three books have “had a profound impact” on his thinking from his undergraduate days, to the present.

“Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,” by Marshall McLuhan (1964) –

“McLuhan is the one who first coined the phase “The medium is the message” and proceeded in this book to outline how throughout history the method of human communication helped to determine our thoughts and actions. This book continues to be a basic text for anyone who would try to understand human communication and the impact of technology,” Miller said.

“Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the World,” by Walter J. Ong (1982)-

“A unique look at how much was gained and lost in communication when humanity moved away from thousands of years of oral tradition to written communication. Literacy is a bedrock of modern civilization but it is not the only way that humans have communicated. The implications of this work for people who communicate through technology are enormous,” he noted of the book.

And finally, “Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer,” by Neal Stephenson-

“Neal Stephenson writes the kind of science fiction that allows us to step beyond the limitations of the present to more clearly see the possibilities of the future. Diamond Age is not only a compelling work of fiction but it is one of the most prescient works on how people and machines may live together in the future. Set in 21st century Shanghai, a street urchin named Nell and her very personal computer have a very large impact on the world.

Assistant art and design professor, Elizabeth Adan, said that she loves reading and out of the many books that she considers important, there were three that immediately became standouts.

“Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping,” Umberto Eco’s, “The Name of the Rose,” and Julia Alvarez’s, “¡Yo!.” I read “Housekeeping,” as a freshman in college, and it’s story of two sisters and their relationship with the eccentric aunt who cares for them made a deep impression on me,” Adan said.

“Several years later, I bought an English translation of, “The Name of the Rose,” while traveling in Europe, and I was immediately caught up in its suspenseful murder mystery that interweaves religion, history, and intellectual developments in fourteenth century Italy. Eco is an important figure in the academic field of philosophy, and specifically semiotics, but he also writes a fantastic thriller!” Edan added.

“In Alvarez’s novel, which I assigned in an undergraduate course I taught prior to my arrival at Cal Poly, the title character, Yo, is described and discussed by her family, colleagues, and friends. Each chapter is told from the vantage point of a different person who knows Yo, and as these people recount their various experiences with her, the different voices come together to create a complex, at times contradictory, portrait of the main character,” said Edan.

English professor, John Hampsey recommends from the Greek tradition – Homer’s “Odyssey,” Plato’s “Apology,” excerpts from Thucydides, “Peloponnesian War,” a play by Sophocles like Antigone, and Euripides like Bacchae.

English professor, Regulus Allen said that she would recommend any of Jane Austen’s six completed novels.

“She wrote “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Mansfield Park,” “Emma,” and “Persuasion.” Most of them are coming-of-age stories, so I think that college students can really identify with them,” said Allen.

English professor, John Battenburg, suggested “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau because, “it addresses essential questions about life, education, nature, and acquisitions.”

As well as, “The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al-Qaeda,” by Yaroslav Trofimov because “it traces the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and al-Qaeda and explains the origin of events ranging from September 11 to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” by Ammon Shea because it is a delightful book about the author reading the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary- a quirky study of a dictionary connoisseur and his relationship with words and the world,” Battenburg said.

English professor, Paul Stegner recommends, “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley, “1984,” by George Orwell, “Fathers and Sons,” by Ivan Turgenev, “The Rainbow,” by D.H Lawrence, and “Confessions,” by St. Augustine.

English Senior, Carly Hubbell, said that aside from obvious must-read classics, such as J.D Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” that college students should read ” The Bell Jar,” by Sylvia Plath because, “it is a timeless book that can affect any woman, no matter what era you are born in. She deals with the many troubles all young ladies have to go through; questioning her future, relationships, family and so on,” Hubbell said. “Her descent into deep depression and mild insanity makes you her cheerleader. She is almost like the girl version of Holden Caulfield.”

Hubbell also noted Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the wind,” as a classic must read novel for any college student even because “it is an epic tale of life in the South.”

With so many notable works of literature, it is hard to pinpoint exactly which are the most important. It is clearly a matter of preference, but according Hubbell, “you feel a certain feeling when you finish a great book. The ones that become favorites are the ones you revert back to again, and again- they are the ones that you find a personal connection with.”

The list:

(Take it with you to the bookstore!)

“1984” by George Orwell

“Antigone” Sophocles

“The Apology” Plato

“Bacchae” Euripides

“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D Salinger

“Confessions” by St. Augustine.

“Diamond Age” or “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” by Neal Stephenson

“Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev

“Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell

“Housekeeping” Marilynne Robinson

“The Name of the Rose” Umberto Eco

“The Odyssey” Homer

“Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the World” by Walter J. Ong

“Peloponnesian War” Thucydides

“The Rainbow” by D.H Lawrence

“Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” by Ammon Shea

“The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al-Qaeda” by Yaroslav Trofimov

“Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Mansfield Park,” “Emma,” or “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

“Walden” by Henry David Thoreau

“Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” Marshall McLuhan

“¡Yo!” Julia Alvarez

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