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One way to talk about reading recommendations might be to say that “the other day, after finishing Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind and with ontological triads floating through my thoughts — there goes one now! — an image of Bernie Sanders flashed before my eyes.” Which of course covers the ground from the sublime to the incomprehensible. Or, from the incomprehensible to the … incomprehensible. Whatever.
Another way to start a conversation about reading recommendations is to imbibe the National Association of Scholars’ recent report on summer reading suggestions made by our illustrious colleges and universities for incoming freshmen. NAS scholars have their own views on these matters, of course, and let’s just say that for the most part they’re not terribly impressed with the list.
Here’s the summary provided by the email message (which also can be found here):
Hundreds of American colleges and universities now assign a summer reading to entering freshmen. NAS’s comprehensive study, Beach Books 2014-2016: What Do Colleges Want Students to Read Outside Class?, lists and analyzes 377 assignments at 366 colleges and universities for 2014-15, and 361 assignments at 350 colleges. Most assignments were contemporary memoirs and popular nonfiction that affirmed progressive sentiments about illegal immigration, racial identity, global warming, unjust incarcerations, gay, lesbian, and transgender life, exaggerated fears of terrorism, anti-corporate paranoia, affirmative action, recycling, sexism, or wealth inequality.
Findings from the study revealed patterns across colleges:
- Recent: Of the assigned books, 97% were published in 1990 or later, 89% were published in 2000 or later, and 59% were published in 2010 or later.
- Politically correct: Racial oppression, environmental catastrophism, and social activism are the most common subject matters of common reading
- A lot missing: Almost no colleges assigned classic fiction or nonfiction, good modern literature, or history.
Before despair prompts you to pour yourself a stiff drink, pop a Xanax, or roam for the highest building in your area, be comforted by the thought that NAS also provided a list of its own reading suggestions. Then again be ready for that drink, Xanax, or tall building thing, because NAS’s list is enough to humble and/or embarrass many of us. Okay, just me, then. Actually, some of the entries on the college and university list looked interesting to pursue also, particularly the dystopian stuff, but the NAS roster is still hugely more impressive.
Which brings up the interesting question for Ricochet readers especially: What books would you recommend? What enduring works have truly made a difference in your lives? Please do enlighten us all with your best thoughts.
So, with a drink in one hand and a Xanax in the other, I gaze from my fourth-story roof, and eagerly await your gushing wisdom…