8 Authors You Must Read Before Starting College

Yesterday, we pored over Slate staffers’ wonderful, diverse, and irreverent list of books they recommend students read before starting college in the fall. Their picks ranged from Saul Bellow to Joseph Mitchell to Zadie Smith… and an essential tome on how to brew your own beer. After adding some of their suggestions to our own to-read list, we got to thinking about the authors that you really need to read before you set off for college, that halfway house to adulthood — the writers whose work is too wide-eyed, precocious, idealistic, dramatic, drug-fueled, or otherwise youthful to fully appreciate once you’re holding down a 9-to-5 and paying rent. They aren’t necessarily “childish” writers but simply legends you might hate if you’ve never looked at them with a teenager’s eyes. We suggest that those of you with only a month left until you move into the dorms get started now.

JD Salinger
Why he’s important: The recently deceased writer remains one of the mid-20th century’s most important novelists. His singular, skeptical, intelligent, wry but also somehow idealistic voice has become ubiquitous in contemporary pop culture — right, Wes Anderson fans?
Pre-college reaction: Wow, these people around me really are phonies! And this smart, charismatic Glass family has it all figured out! Move over, Franny and Zooey! I want a spot on that couch.
Post-college reaction: Could these self-satisfied New York intellectuals take their eyes off their navels for a second?