Back from the Beach: 100 New Books

Ashley Thorne

It’s September and the semester is well underway. Now that summer’s over, we thought you’d like to know what books colleges hope students read over the summer (if they read at all). We revisited our June Beach Books report to bring you an update.

Our database of books colleges and universities pick as “common reading” is the most comprehensive one ever created; now we’ve added even more to it. Back in June, nearly a third of the colleges on our list hadn’t publicized or picked their books for 2010-2011, so we had their 2009-2010 choices listed. Now we’ve made over 100 updates and additions, making this new list the most reliable and current resource on American college common reading. 

Our major finding this time: 93% of top universities have common reading programs.

Click here to view the updated list. Updated entries are marked in yellow (i.e. 2010-2011).

34 colleges are new to our list, and 5 informed us that their common reading program has been suspended. Click here to view the programs that we added and cut since June.

What’s different from June to September? Let’s take a quick look at the changes.

Trends

  •       The book with the biggest leap in popularity from June to September is Outcasts United, a story about a group of refugee boys from different countries in Africa and the Middle East who settle in Clarkston, Georgia and are discovered by a Jordanian woman who forms them into a soccer team.
  •       Two other top books had a spike in popularity: This I Believe (and This I Believe II), the NPR-assembled anthology that was already the most frequently selected book for common reading; and Persepolis, a graphic novel (comic book) about a girl living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
  •       Some books notably decreased in popularity. These include Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey and Steve Lopez’s The Soloist. Books by Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers; Blink) and Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns) almost disappeared from the updated list. Perhaps this corresponds to the fact that the movies based on some of these books are no longer in the public eye.
  •       One book that did disappear from the list is President Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, which had been selected by two institutions, Quinnipiac University and the University of Washington, in 2009, but was dropped in 2010.
  •       The category of books that saw the greatest increase is “Society/Poverty/Women.” New books in this category sought to examine the meaning of “social justice”:

                      Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical

                      The Emptiness of Our Hands: A Lent Lived on the Streets

                      Monique and the Mango Rains

                      “The Undesirable Table” (a short story)

                      Selections on poverty in Philadelphia

                      Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America

  •       “Rapacious Capitalism,” a category for items which seek to portray capitalism as a devouring force of oppression, doubled in size. The new books in this category are:

                       Melal: A Novel of the Pacific

                      The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

                      Animal Dreams

While we listed John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath under “Classics,” the book also contains themes of “Rapacious Capitalism.”

  •        We created two new categories where we see potential for future expansion. In “Homosexuality” we placed The Laramie Project, a play about the murder of a gay student at the University of Wyoming in 1998. In “Health Care” we placed La Salle University’s reading module on “The Global Challenge of Health Care.”
  •       Three additional colleges selected classic texts: Troy University picked Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (by June Texas Tech had also selected Frankenstein). The King’s College picked Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. And Delaware Valley College picked Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
  •       Fewer books with movie versions are being chosen; fewer Latino-themed and East Asian-themed books are being chosen. More African and African American-themed books are being chosen. More Hurricane Katrina-themed books are being chosen.
  •       Some colleges didn’t venture far from last year’s type of book. Montana State University, for example, traded a disability-themed book with a movie version (The Soloist) for a disability-themed book with a movie version (Double Take: A Memoir). Some kept the same book they used last year.
  •        A few colleges with just one book last year opted for multiple selections. Pine Manor College paired the story we know as “Hotel Rwanda” with the feel-good psychology book Wired to Be Inspired. Ringling College of Art and Design chose chapters from three books: one on “service learning,” one on homelessness, and one on American philosophy as portrayed by the TV show The Simpsons.

 

By the Numbers

Figure 1 shows the changes in the number of colleges and universities and books the study covers, as well as the types of institutions and those selected by U.S. News and World Report as the Top 100 National Universities and the Top 100 Liberal Arts Universities. Notice that 93% of the top national universities have now been found to have common reading programs

Changes from June 2010 to Sept 2010

 

 June 

 Sept 

 Change 

Institutions Covered

290

319

+29

Books Covered

180

184

+4

Public Institutions

136

147

+11

Community Colleges

41

41

+0

Private Institutions (Non-Sectarian)

83

97

+14

Private (Sectarian)

33

39

+6

Top 100 National Universities

79

93

+13

Top 100 Liberal Arts Universities

38

46

+8

Figure 1


Figure 2 shows the changes in the number of books selected in each category and with each theme.   

Key

 

 

Multiculturalism/Immigration/Racism

60

63

Environmentalism/Animal Rights/Food

36

34

Islamic World

27

32

New Age/Spiritual/Philosophy

25

30

Society/Poverty/Women

24

30

Holocaust/Genocide/War/Disaster

25

30

Memoirs/Novels of Overcoming Adversity

16

19

Disability/Disease

19

18

Science

13

16

Mind/Technology/Economy

16

15

Classics

6

8

Rapacious Capitalism

3

7

Fantasy, Sci-Fi

6

6

Slavery

4

4

Uncategorized

3

4

Despair

5

4

Historical Speculation

3

3

Ideas About Education

2

2

Homosexuality

0

1

Health Care

0

1

Indicates that a film version exists

46

40

¤   Indicates an African theme

29

34

r Indicates an African American theme

25

34

z  Indicates an East Asian theme  

18

15

HK Indicates Hurricane Katrina theme

9

14

Ü Indicates a Latino theme

17

12

†  Indicates comic book or graphic novel

9

12

L  Indicates dysfunctional family theme

5

4

¨ Indicates mid-20th century fiction

4

4

Figure 2

 
Figure 3 shows the top titles as of September compared with the top titles as of June. 

 

Books Assigned at 3 or More Institutions (June 2010)

#

Books Assigned at 3 or More Institutions (September 2010)

This I Believe I and II

11

This I Believe I and II

18

Enrique’s Journey

10

Outcasts United

14

Three Cups of Tea

9

Three Cups of Tea

12

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

9

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

12

The Soloist

8

Persepolis

11

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

7

Zeitoun

10

The Last Lecture

6

Mountains Beyond Mountains

7

Outcasts United

6

Enrique’s Journey

6

Mountains Beyond Mountains

6

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

5

Zeitoun

6

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

5

Persepolis

5

No Impact Man

5

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

5

Half the Sky

5

A Long Way Gone

4

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

4

No Impact Man

4

The Last Lecture

4

Half the Sky

4

The Soloist

4

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

3

When the Emperor Was Divine

4

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

3

A Long Way Gone

3

Into the Wild

3

Making the Impossible Possible

3

Outliers

3

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

3

The Devil’s Highway

3

Into the Wild

3

When the Emperor Was Divine

3

A Hope in the Unseen

3

Making the Impossible Possible

3

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

3

 

 

The Things They Carried

3

 

 

Listening is an Act of Love

3

Figure 3 

We at the NAS encourage colleges and universities to continue their common reading programs and to consult our list of recommended books for ideas for next year. We’ll be back next summer with a fresh report on books colleges picked for 2011-2012.

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