One of the traditions here at The Syllabus is to compile a list of the books that new first-year college students are (supposed to be) reading over the summer.
These common reading programs (the names vary) all work more or less the same way. Faculty and administrators pick a book — something usually modern and topical — and new students discuss what they’ve read in the days before classes start. The college often invites the author to campus and schedules other related events (lectures, panels, readings) around the topic covered in the book.
The common read and all the related events are designed to give new students a shared experience and to introduce them to the intellectual life of the academy. College is more than just beer and football, in other words.
I usually list the reading selections by school — local campuses first, followed by other colleges around North Carolina. This year, I’m going to mix things up. The list below is in ABC order by author to make it seem like more of a list of suggested higher ed beach reads and less of a collection of who’s-reading-what.
So if you need something to keep your brain engaged over the summer, here you go. Note that any quotes in the one-line descriptions below come from the publisher's website. I’ve also noted which college or university has assigned a particular book.
"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This "bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history" won a National Book Award in 2015. (N.C. Central University)
“Something Must be Done about Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle” by Kristen Green. This book tells the story of a Virginia community that closed its public schools in 1959 instead of integrating them. (Elon University)
“Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality” by Pamela Grundy. The author, a former Davidson College instructor, uses the story of one high school to reflect on race, community, education and democracy. (Davidson College)
“In the Country We Love: My Family Divided” by Diane Guerrero. This TV actress' memoir “is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman's extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country.” (Guilford College)
“We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter” by Celeste Headlee. The former NPR host writes that Americans need to get out from behind their screens and start talking to one another. (High Point University)
“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez. In this novel, a Mexican family brings their 15-year-old daughter to the United States to get the medical care she needs. (Western Carolina University)
“The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” by Wes Moore. This New York Times bestseller follows the lives of two Baltimore boys who grew up blocks apart but turned out very differently. (UNC-Asheville)
“Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah. A memoir by the host of “The Daily Show.” (UNC-Charlotte)
“Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships” by Mitch Prinstein. “A leading psychologist examines how our popularity affects our success, our relationships, and our happiness.” (UNC-Chapel Hill)
“Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary” by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. The authors of the bestselling “The Power of Nice” reveal the real secret of success. (N.C. A&T)
Here are even more suggestions:
Wake Forest University lets first-year students pick from this list of 45 books that starts with Wiley Cash’s “The Last Ballad” (I recommend it) and ends with Angela Duckworth’s “Grit.” There’s fiction, non-fiction and memoir as well as a few classical picks (Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen, Sophocles). There’s something for everyone here.
Penguin Random House compiled a list last summer of common reads at 400-some U.S. colleges and universities. The publisher hasn’t done one for this summer, but here’s last year’s list.
The right-leaning National Association of Scholars put out a beach reading list last summer but didn’t do another one for 2018. If your idea of a good beach read is something published in the 20th century (or earlier) that doesn’t directly address a current topic, check out the NAS list of recommended classics from 2017.
Happy summer, everyone. Hope you're having a great one.
Update 1, July 16: NAS' research director David Randall let me know via email that an updated report on common reading is due out later this summer, probably around Labor Day. Look for it here in a few weeks.
Update 2, July 16: I added N.C. Central's common reading.
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