A Literary “Groundhog Day”

The past few years have given us many changes in higher education—from budget cuts around the country to talk of a college bubble. But one thing has remained constant: freshman reading. These are the books that incoming students are expected to read over the summer before they enter as freshmen. The purpose is to introduce students to academic life at the university level.

Each year, the Pope Center chronicles the freshman summer reading choices across North Carolina. Taken as a whole, they are always dull, grim, unchallenging, and predictably left-leaning. This year is no different.

Motifs such as racism, sexism, nationalism, and environmentalism are nearly ubiquitous, as the list below reveals. There are a few exceptions. Perhaps the most interesting exception is Methodist University’s choice of Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard. In it, the author recounts his journey from poverty to stability. Although Shepard had recently graduated from college, he used neither his degree nor his contacts in his job search.

Shepard’s book is a rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, which has been a widely used freshman reading and was the UNC-Chapel Hill selection in 2003.

According to his publisher, Shepard undertook his experiment as a response tothe apathy he saw around him” and Barbara Ehrenreich’s works Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, which he had read during college. Those books, he said, gave him a “feeling of hopelessness over the state of the working class.” After one year, Shepard achieved his goal: $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.

Here are the summer reading assignments from around the state:

  • Appalachian State: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall discusses the author’s relationship with the Tarahumara Indians, known as the world’s greatest distance runners.
  • Barton College: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers describes one man’s experience in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Catawba: Zeitoun, see above
  • Davidson: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir by Neil White describes the author’s relationship with members of a leper colony in Carville, Louisiana.
  • Duke: Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer discusses the moral dimensions of vegetarianism.
  • ECU: Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, et al. describes the relationship forged between Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton who was wrongfully convicted of raping her.
  • Elon: Creating a World Without Poverty: How Social Business Can Transform Our Lives by Muhammad Yunus questions the profit-seeking motive of traditional capitalism and promotes the concept of social business as the solution to global poverty and inequality.
  • Fayetteville State UniversityDisintegration: The Splintering of Black America by Eugene Robinson explains recent divisions within the black community.
  • Gardner-Webb: They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky:  The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benjamin Ajak, et al. describes the story of three young refugees fleeing their villages in war-torn Sudan.
  • Lenoir-Rhyne: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore tells the story of two men sharing a common name.  One became a Rhodes scholar; the other was imprisoned for murder.
  • Mars Hill: Persepolis:  The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novel that recounts the author’s childhood in Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution.
  • Meredith: Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother by Sonia Nazario describes an Honduran boy’s journal to be reunited with his mother in the United States.
  • Methodist: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard describes the author’s attempt to achieve the American Dream after graduating college.  The book responds to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.
  • NC A&T: Planet of Slums by Mike Davis examines the recent expansion of urban slums in less developed nations.
  • NCSU: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot describes how scientists used cells from a young African American woman to make medical breakthroughs, including a cure for polio.
  • Peace: The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novagratz describes the author’s struggle to understand and address global poverty.
  • Queens University: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is a fictional account of one teacher’s relationship with his students on a war-torn island.
  • Salem College: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a fictional account of a family living in Nigeria during a military coup.
  • UNC-Chapel Hill: Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer (see above).
  • UNC Greensboro: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a non-fiction chronicle of recent college graduate Christopher McCandless’ journey through the Alaskan wilderness.
  • UNC Wilmington: Zeitoun (see above).
  • Winston-Salem State University: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami recounts the journey of four Moroccans fleeing to Spain.