Summer reading (colleges hope)

Ninety-three percent of top universities assign a “common reading” to new college students, reports the National Association of Scholars in Back from the Beach: 100 New Books by Ashley Thorne.

President Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, selected by Quinnipiac University and the University of Washington in 2009, was dropped in 2010.

§ 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.

The society/poverty/women category surged with a number of books exploring “social justice.”

Here’s the recommended reading list from NAS. Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop left me cold. O Pioneers! is a good feminist novel. I should read The Blithedale Romance.

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  1. I had the same reaction to Death Comes for the Archbishop, which I read as an adult. If they want some Southwest literature, The Milagro Beanfield War might be a better choice. But maybe they’re trying to inflate the “female authors” category.

  2. I like lists like this. They serve as good reminders for books I haven’t yet read.

    They also make me laugh at some of their choices.

    I’m not sure that James Agee is a good choice. What they say is sheer beauty, Updike thought was overblown, sentimental. For sheer beauty, I like William James. Even Sir A. Conan Doyle.

    I love Camus and have read everything he’s ever written, but The Plague is far from my favorite.

    The Last of the Mohicans? I don’t understand why that’s on any list except for the fact it’s always been on lists. I suspect it has historical significance. In America, this used to be what passed itself off as literature.

    Blue Highways was a great idea for a book, it was written by a creative college professor, he took a long time to edit it to get it just right, but in my opinion, it’s a failure. A wonderful idea for a book. I have several copies and have tried to read it five or more times. But I can’t finish it. It’s just not very good.

    Jane Jacobs. I’ve been wanting to read her for years. I’m embarrassed I haven’t done so yet. And ashamed. She is a must read.

    The Harold Bloom book I would read with a good degree of caution. He’s an intelligent, turgid old man. His opinions are sometimes interesting, sometimes intentionally confounding, sometimes boring. He’ll make you think, that’s for sure, but to read him is frustrating.

    All of the other suggestions appear to be good ones.

    Ah, it would be nice to return to Alexander Pope, but I’m not sure if I have enough brain cells left and I’m not in a hurry to find out.

  3. greeneyeshade says:

    ‘O Pioneers’ feminist? Maybe not in the obvious way. I caught up with it when my older daughter had to read it in high school _ for American history, not literature. (The teacher had the bad luck to look and sound exactly like Leslie Nielsen in the ‘Airplane!’ and ‘Naked Gun’ movies, but he did a good job.) Politics, for Cather, seems to have been beside the point, and Populism, specifically, is for losers, at least in that book. On the other hand, it does illustrate the point that (as Edna Ferber put it one of her Western novels, I forget which) the sunbonnet did as much as the Stetson to settle the West, and the Stetson knew it. The Western states and territories gave women the vote long before the rest of the country did.

  4. I loved Blue Highways, but I’m a huge sucker for a road novel.

  5. Having read Mark Twain’s essay Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, I have to question his inclusion in the list. Other than that, though, it seems like an unusually solid and non-politically-correct list. I was delighted to see that Kim was recommended. It is one of the best novels ever written, but has been relegated to second-class status by political correctness.

    Twian’s essay is here:


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