Jun 10, 2010

What Will College Freshmen Be Reading this Summer?

Setting aside the politics of their commentary, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) recently put together a fascinating review of summer reading programs required of incoming freshman at colleges throughout the country. Unlike more familiar “required reading” assignments designed for high school students to get a little ahead or at least keep in the practice of reading over the summer, the college programs are more targeted to helping “start the conversation” during freshman orientation.

So what are the freshmen reading this summer? Based on an analysis of 290 programs, the top books this year are This I believe (an essay collection assigned at 11 colleges), Enriques’s Journey (an immigrant’s story assigned at 10 colleges), as well as Three Cups of Tea (the story of building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan) and the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (ethics in research). The last two are assigned at 9 colleges.

The study, entitled “Beach Books,” looked at the themes and politics of the books selected for freshman reading and concluded that books about multiculturalism, immigration or racism were most popular (60 colleges). Next were books covering environmental issues (36 colleges), the Islamic world (27 colleges), New Age or spiritual books (25 colleges), and issues related to the Holocaust or genocide (25 colleges). NAS also reported that 46 of the choices have a film version, 29 are about Africa, 9 are related to Hurricane Katrina, and 5 are about dysfunctional families.

Several local colleges have incorporated summer reading into their freshman orientation activities. Students at George Washington University will be reading Half the Sky by Nichola Kristop and Sheryl WuDunn, and at American they will read The Moral Underground by Lisa Dodson. Going more toward the classics, St. Mary's College of Maryland has assigned first-year students The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

At Salisbury University, freshmen will read “A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League,” by Ron Suskind. The subject of the book, Cedric Jennings, will be Salisbury’s Convocation speaker. And taking the theme of life-changing journeys back to its literary origins, Catholic University assigned Homer’s The Odyssey.

“The Odyssey bears directly to what you’re about to do,” said Dr. Todd Lidh, Catholic’s director of the "First Year Experience," in his comments on the assignment. He goes on to explain that the first four books are “about Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and his quest to find out who he is and who he comes from, what to believe and what to discard, who to trust and who to avoid. And he does this by leaving home—just as you are about to do.”

And so for college-bound seniors, the journey begins.

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