Required Freshman Reading at 7 U.S. Colleges for the Class of 2018, So You Have Something to Talk About With Your Roommate

ISTANBUL TURKEY - JUNE 20: People stand and read books during a silent protest at Taksim Square on June 20, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Performance artist Erdem Gunduz, nicknamed 'The Standing Man,' became a new symbol of the anti-government protests after a eight-hour vigil in Taksim Square. Gunduz reportedly said he was protesting in solidarity with demonstrators after they were evicted from Gezi Park that adjoins Taksim Square. The protests began in May, with environmentalists upset over plans to build in Gezi Park, and has grown into a broader demonstration against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government. (Photo by Baris Acarli/Getty Images)
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Did your alma mater have a freshman reading requirement? The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last year that programs in which schools ask all first years to read a specific book before school starts were held in more than 300 colleges. Although, yeah, having an assignment before you even step foot on your new campus is not exactly the most fun thing ever, the common reading experience has some good sides, especially if you want to bond with other students (even if that's over your hatred of the book). A book can also act as an introduction to a school’s values, student culture, and political or religious affiliation — which is why, you know, no one assigns Diary of a Shopaholic or something. 

Are schools successful in attempting to get their freshman to read? My informal research (gchatting my buds) says “meh.” I read my freshman book — Life of Pi — but only because I instantly disliked my roommate and needed something to do when she was moving in that would get me as far away from her as possible (although I, like most of my polled friends, skipped the book discussion — COLLEGE WOO! NO PARENTS!) When I transferred schools, first years (transfers included) were asked to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore's Dilemma and write a short essay about it. I declined to do either (an attempt to distinguish myself from freshman status), although Pollan’s writing proved to be very telling of the school’s liberal arts atmosphere and its later-support of a large student interest in the slow food movement. I coulda learned something, I guess!

Here are some books some schools have assigned for the class of 2018. Whether you’re a freshman reading one to escape a nightmare roommate, or out of school and curious to see what your little sis is up to in college, you’ll definitely get a great education with any of them. 

Ithaca College: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

McBride’s faux memoir is a bit Forrest Gumpy: Onion, an escaped slave, travels through 1850s America and encounters real abolitionists (like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass). Onion's journey is similar to Huck Finn's, too, and will likely remind freshman of the adventure they're about to start.

Elon College: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Wind is the true story of Kamkwamba’s attempt to build a windmill for his impoverished Malawian village. It’s an inspiring story, and the energy and social justice issues that hover nearby are in line with Elon’s past choices (An Inconvenient Truth, Nickel and Dimed, and Zeitoun, to name a few).

Bucknell University: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s 2007 novel follows a young Pakistani man as his American life begins to unravel, post 9/11. The whole book is a monologue and there’s a cliffhanger ending, which makes the book especially fitting for the who-knows-what-could-happen commencement of your college career.

Boston College: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Eggers’ cultural awareness — so on point in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius — is sharp (and sharply disturbing) in this recent work of fiction. Mae begins working at The Circle, a Google-like company shortly after graduating college; you’ll root for her at first, and then you’ll be horrified by the intrusiveness of The Circle and its employees (and users) willingness to give up their privacy. It’s a great read but an even better cautionary tale.

UC Berkeley

Berkeley’s celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement this year, and they’ve got a reading list that reflects the importance of speaking up and out. To choose from on the long list? I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai; Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde; V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, and The Portable Sixties Reader, edited by Ann Charters, among many others. Berkeley urges its students to “take your place in the free thinking community of avid readers,” and they certainly won’t have any trouble doing just that with their inspiring list.

UNC Chapel Hill: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

A coming-of-age story set in motion by a hate crime, Erdrich’s novel is one of her best-reviewed. Focused on the life of a Native American boy who lives on a reservation in North Dakota, the book will introduce readers to a culture frequently left out of literary discussions and is a good indication of the new people and life stories that freshman will encounter. 

Pomona College: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie’s best-selling and critically acclaimed novel is a transcontinental story of identity and love. Written from the perspective of a Nigerian woman living in America, Adichie’s commentary on race and building a life in America are eye-opening; her observations are important for college students who are leaving their communities for the first time. 

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