• Joanne Jacobs

Summer reading: Where’s Gilgamesh?

Forty percent college orientations include discussion of a common summer reading assignment, reports Dana Goldstein in the New York Times.  Books on “immigration, race and the perils of technology” top summer reading lists, according to a Penguin Random House survey.


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Three books by black authors — lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy, Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore and essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me are popular.

“College administrators say books that emphasize themes such as diversity and tolerance can help nonwhite and first-generation college students feel more comfortable on campus,” writes Goldstein.

Students heading to College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and Elon University in North Carolina, among others, will read Make Your Home Among Strangers, by Jennine Capó Crucet, about a young Cuban-American woman torn between her working-class family in Miami and life at a liberal arts college. Other popular choices are Citizen: An American Lyric, a book of poetry by Claudia Rankine, which recounts the slights and verbal aggressions that make up the daily experience of racism; Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, a sociologist who embedded with poor renters in Milwaukee; and Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt, about a transgender teenager.

After “vigorous discussion,”  the University of Wisconsin-Madison chose J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which “explores issues of social breakdown among working-class whites, such as drug use and child neglect,” writes Goldstein. At least three other colleges also chose the book.


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Colleges assume that “diversity is defined by race or gender,” said David Randall of the National Association of Scholars, who writes the annual Beach Books.

PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil suggests 14 classics for new college students, starting with the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (I’m not a big fan), the Book of Job (plenty to discuss) and the Dialogues of Plato. More recent entries are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which makes a few current lists because of the anti-tech slant and female author, and John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University on liberal education. O’Neil’s most recent is Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which is way too long. I’d suggest Notes from Underground.

Florida College, a Christian school, selected Pericles’ Funeral Oration and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

What should incoming students read — if anything — to prepare for college? And, for those of you young enough to have participated, do students actually read the book?

#JDVance #WesMoore #BryanStevenson #Gilgamesh #HillbillyElegy #JustMercy #TaNehisiCoates #collegeorientation #summerreading

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