After the recommendations of books like A Severe Mercy, Resident Aliens, and Lord of the Rings, I’m afraid my recommended reading will sound flat-out boring. It certainly is no respecter of Mr. Anderson’s criteria for a book to be read in your leisure. The title of the book is as straightforward as the book is boring, and the length and subtle pomposity of the subtitle is a soft warning that, if you want to buy this book, you should be sure to get a used copy that’s at least 75 percent off the list price. To top it off, the author doesn’t have a memorable name like “Tolkien,” “Hauerwas,” or “Vanauken.” It’s one of those boring names that when Googled returns hits for at least a hundred different people of the same name.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if Matt paid me to recommend his book. He did not.
The book I recommend to new college students is Study Is Hard Work: The Most Accessible and Lucid Text Available on Acquiring and Keeping Study Skills Through a Lifetime, by William Armstrong.
Apart from the helpful hints on how to study better, I think the central message to take away from the book is partially stated in the title: study is hard work. The other half of the message follows from that: for an undergraduate education, learning is more about your moral commitment to learning than it is about your intellectual ability.
At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I often tell my students that if they’re not going to study hard, they might as well drop out of college and start working at Trader Joe’s. After four years of working as many hours as they can at Joe’s, they’ll have started a good career in a good (from what I can tell) company. After four years of half-studying at even a cheap college, they’ll have a degree—that tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of other people also have. And many of their fellow students will have studied harder and be better placed to get a job or graduate school position than they are. Most of them will also have a good amount of debt from student loans.
Like almost any other book, this book won’t change a person’s life. If a student isn’t working hard, this book probably won’t get them to work hard. But if you’re a parent, grandparent, mentor, or pastor of a college student who’s not working as hard as he is able to, please sit down with them and give them a wake-up speech. If the student wakes up and realizes the need to work hard, this book can help him develop the tools he needs to live up to his potential.