Books that college freshmen should have read over the summer

It has become a common practice at many colleges and universities to assign to incoming freshmen a book or other reading selection over the summer —sometimes as a requirement, sometimes just as a suggestion — so they can all come together to participate in a discussion about a particular theme during the school year. In some cases, students are also required to write about the book. Here are some of the 2014 reading selections from various schools and the reasons for which they were selected:

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STANFORD UNIVERSITY in California

How to Breathe Underwater, by Julie Orringer

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

From the school’s Web site:

The Three Books program, now in its third year, aims to provide all frosh and transfers with a “common book” experience. Previously, each Resident Fellow would select a book for new students to read over the summer and discuss during New Student Orientation. This fall, students will come together in MemAud to listen to Julie Orringer, former Stegner fellow and author of How to Breathe Underwater, Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, and Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. After a conversation moderated by English professor Tobias Wolff, who helped select the books, students will adjourn to their dorms for more discussion.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY

The Circle by Dave Eggers

From the school’s Web site:

When students attend orientation, they are given their own copies of the book and asked to read it before they return to campus in August. During Welcome Week and throughout the academic year, students exchange ideas on the book through small-group discussions led by a faculty member, university administrator or upper-level student. The discussions not only introduce academic dialogue, but also offer opportunities to establish connections with faculty, staff and fellow students.

SETON HALL UNIVERSITY in New Jersey

Radium Girls, by D.W. Gregory

From the school’s Web site:

This year’s book is Radium Girls by D.W. Gregory.  In addition to reading Radium Girls, please use the link below to read Glow in the Dark, an article which provides historical context for the play. Every Summer freshmen are encouraged to participate in an essay contest about the book. The winner receives a text book voucher of $400.00 to the University Bookstore.

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY in South Carolina

 Machine Man, by Max Barry

From the school Web site:

Scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident. It’s not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. Charlie always thought his body could be better. He begins to explore a few ideas, build parts. Better parts.

Prosthetist Lola Shanks loves a good artificial limb. In Charlie, she sees a man on his way to becoming artificial everything. But others see a madman. Or a product. Or a weapon.

A story for the age of pervasive technology, Machine Man is a gruesomely funny unraveling of one man’s quest for ultimate self-improvement….

…All incoming Clemson freshmen are required to participate in the Summer Reading Program as part of their CU 1000 Course Requirements. Students will receive a complimentary copy of Machine Man when they come to Summer Orientation. On August 18, 2014, Max Barry will address the entire freshman class at 1 p.m. in Littlejohn Coliseum. Immediately following Mr. Barry’s address, students will discuss their thoughts and reactions in small groups across campus, led by Clemson faculty and staff.

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY in New Jersey

Meaning in Life and Why It Matters, by Susan Wolf

From the school’s Web site:

President Christopher L. Eisgruber has chosen “Meaning in Life and Why It Matters” by Susan Wolf for the second year of the Princeton Pre-read, an introduction to the intellectual life of the University that centers on a book read by members of the freshman class and others in the Princeton community….During Orientation Week, Wolf will participate in a panel discussion about the book with commentators from the faculty. Freshmen will have opportunities to discuss the book with Eisgruber in residential colleges and elsewhere on campus throughout the academic year.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

From the school Web site:

Based on the popular National Public Radio series of the same name, This I Believe features eighty different statements of individual principles from the famous and unknown alike….

… all incoming freshman students receive packets that include a Summer Reading Guide, information about the author, and a list of course sections using the book selection for the Fall. In its first year, over 100 different course sections from three different academic colleges participated, along with six reading groups from the local community! More than 7,000 people attended last Fall’s University Convocation where our guest author was invited to speak.

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman

From the school’s Web site:

Every year since 1991, Penn’s incoming freshmen have come together in small groups with faculty to discuss a selected text specifically for that class. The Penn Reading Project (PRP) is a major feature of New Student Orientation, and the first opportunity students have to interact with faculty in an intellectual discussion.

We welcome faculty and senior academic staff across the University to participate. This year’s selection is Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. For information, visit: www.yearofhealth.org.

If you are ready to sign up, please continue! This website allows you to indicate various preferences that will help us to create our groups. You’ll be hearing from us occasionally during the summer…

 

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

From the school’s Web site:

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is required reading for students entering the Steinhardt School this fall.  The book will be discussed in the New Student Seminar, a course that offers students a way to explore their role in the community using the reading as a guide.

Wild tells the story of Strayed’s journey on foot across the Pacific Crest Trail.  After the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage, the author takes to the open road with an overstuffed backpack, a trail book, and a pair of too-tight hiking boots.

“We thought Wild would serve as a wonderful metaphor to shape our discussion about issues that students face when they leave home and embark on college life,” said Patricia Carey, associate dean for student affairs.  “Wild is about a journey to a new place, about the challenges, surprises, and tribulations that make us stronger and that ultimately teach us how to live our lives.”

At the New Student Seminar, freshman and transfer students will be exploring the book’s literary and psychological themes, as well as looking at how individual circumstance and agency can influence their personal narratives.  They will also discuss leaders whose visions influenced social movements and create a project centered on the seminar’s theme, “Mapping Our Journeys: Discovery the World.”

ROLLINS COLLEGE in Florida

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, by Rebekah Nathan

From the school Web site:

The Summer Reading program at Rollins was created with the purpose of engaging incoming students in topics of leadership and citizenship. These challenge students’ conceptions of the immediate world around them and to the larger world of which we are all an integral part….

Each student will be expected to finish the book prior to arriving on campus for Fall Orientation in August.  In addition to the Summer Reading, every incoming student is required to complete a substantive response to the summer reading book.  Your RCC faculty member will give you more information on this project over the course of the summer.

MILLSAPS COLLEGE in Mississippi

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

From the school Web site:

 In the book, Kristof and WuDunn present a series of case studies of women and women’s rights initiatives. Their goal is to increase awareness in the West of the issues that plague women and keep them—and, by extension, humanity—from achieving their potential. he authors also offer suggestions for solutions and actions to be taken, even if their readers are far from the geographic locations of these cases. We anticipate a rich discussion of this book on our campus this year.

As part of the summer reading and writing program, you should undertake the following assignment after reading Half the Sky. In a short (three to four page) essay, respond to one of the following writing prompts.

1. In her 2009 review of the book for The Nation, Katha Pollitt remarks that “Half the Sky makes such a strong case for gender justice, it demolishes so successfully the unthinking moral relativism that shrugs at atrocities, and it fills the reader’s heart with so much sympathy and indignation that its modest prescriptions come as quite a letdown.” What bolder solution(s) might you imagine for one of the case studies in the book?

2. How would you characterize or define Kristof and WuDunn’s vision of empowerment? Use examples from the text to develop your definition/characterization.

3. While Kristof and WuDunn present simple anecdotes to introduce us to important issues, they also demonstrate the complexities underlying these seemingly simple situations. Select one such example from the book and reflect on the issue’s root causes. What interventions do you imagine would be helpful in addressing the issue?

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY

The school compiles a summer reading list for freshmen (and anybody else) around a particular theme every year. Though no book on the list is required, it is suggested that at least one or two of the books are read. This year’s theme is the Free Speech Movement.

From the school Web site:

You’ll find books here that treat the people and events of Berkeley in fall 1964 and soon after. You’ll also find books, both fiction and nonfiction (and some other media), that deal with other issues, places, and people that touch on the theme: freedom of the press, the women’s movement, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, and so much more.

Books on the list include:

Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, by Robert Cohen
Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, by Seth Rosenfeld
Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties, by Sara Davidson
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai
Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

From the school’s Web site:

For the book lovers among us, summer means making a little extra time to fall in love with a new title or revisit an old favorite.

Incoming University of Texas at Austin freshmen are no exception, and the 12th annual Reading Round-up invites them to join a campus-wide book club that promises an introduction to the university they won’t soon forget. Not to mention it offers plenty of new entries for their must-read lists.

Reading Round-up shares professors’ picks for books they think new college students should read, from the classics to modern novels to practical nonfiction. Students in the Class of 2018 pick a book from the list, sign up online and read it before the fall semester begins. On Aug. 26, the day before classes start, faculty will lead small group discussions with the students who read their pick. (See the entire 52-title list here, along with each professor’s pitch for why it’s worth your time.)

The books include:

A Song of Ice and Fire, Vol. 1: Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Emma, by Jane Austen
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire, by Jennifer Knust

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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