Madison Catrett, 18, grew up in south Georgia — in a town about 30 miles from Tallahassee. Her high school was mostly white, Christian, and conservative — a place “where education is not as important as football,” says Catrett.
She’s bound for Duke University in the fall — and she’s a little nervous to go somewhere new, somewhere so different from her hometown.
Luckily, she and other Duke freshmen have a built-in conversation starter: the reading they’ve all been assigned — Richard Blanco’s Prince of Los Cocuyos.
“I’m excited about it. It gives us something extra to talk about — common ground we might not otherwise have,” says Catrett.
And that’s what many colleges and universities across the country are going for. Schools often call it their common reading program; some are just for freshmen, and for others, the entire campus or local community joins in.
Most “common reads” are contemporary nonfiction, with three-quarters published between 2010 and present, according to a report from the National Association of Scholars that examines choices offered at 348 schools in the U.S.
The NAS has been putting out this report since 2010 — and they haven’t been too jazzed about the selections. The report labels the majority of titles “progressive,” “parochial,” and “mediocre,” promoting “activism” and fitting a “narrow, predictable genre.”
Not surprising, the report’s author praises schools that opted for the unconventional (or classical) — like Florida College, which in 2016 assigned Pericles’ Funeral Oration (431 BC).
Last year, just three books made up 15 percent of all common reading assignments: Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.
What does the summer of 2017 have in store for college students? Here’s a sampling.