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July 01, 2011 5:13 PM The Dreaded Summer Reading List

By Daniel Luzer

It’s summer reading time. Many American colleges have issued their official summer reading orders for college freshman. This is a common tactic of many colleges, requiring freshmen to all read the same book before they show up for class. This is designed to give every student a common point for discussion at orientation.

The books themselves, however, can be troublesome. According to a piece by Jenna Ashley Robinson and Will Jakes at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy:

The past few years have given us many changes in higher education—from budget cuts around the country to talk of a college bubble. But one thing has remained constant: freshman reading.
Each year, the Pope Center chronicles the freshman summer reading choices across North Carolina. Taken as a whole, they are always dull, grim, unchallenging, and predictably left-leaning. This year is no different.

Such objectionable books include Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. This reading assignment at Appalachian State University is about the author’s relationship with the Tarahumara Indians, the world’s greatest distance runners. Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, which address the moral implications of eating commercially produced meat, is freshman reading at Duke University. Incoming students at North Carolina State University will read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about how scientists used cells from one black woman to make thousands of scientific breakthroughs.

Oh the horror.

While I’m not really sure how Robinson and Jakes discovered that the books were dull, grim, unchallenging, and left-leaning—did they read them all?—such publications don’t really seem that surprising or troublesome.

The freshman book is supposed to be socially relevant and entertaining enough so that most of the class might actually finish it; so easy to read and generally left leaning is probably good enough. The point of the book is to provoke discussion.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Colin Day on July 03, 2011 1:37 AM:

    What if a student doesn't care about social relevance?

  • Mnemosyne on July 04, 2011 2:15 AM:

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a terrific book, a combination of a scientific thriller and a mystery novel. The only downside to having these kids read it is that "making" them do it will mean that a lot of them won't be able to enjoy it as the great read that it is.