Summer is here, which means some recent high school graduates are doing all sorts of summer-y things that might or might not include doing their assigned summer reading before they head off to college in the fall.
A lot of colleges and universities (but no longer UNCG, as I note further down) assign a book to its new students to read over the summer. And because I know my smart and well-educated Syllabus readers — that's all of you, especially you — are always on the lookout for a few good beach books, here you go: the 2019 edition of higher ed beach reading.
I've included as many North Carolina colleges and universities as I could find online. I compiled this reading list in ABC order by author; the school that assigned a particular work is in parentheses after the author's name. Unless noted, I paraphrased the brief book descriptions and took direct quotes from the publishers' websites.
So here's the 2019 edition of higher ed beach reading:
• "My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South" by Issac J. Bailey (Davidson College). The author — a Davidson College alum and journalist — writes about his eldest brother, who spent 32 years in prison for murder.
• "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg" by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (Meredith College). A Tumblr page gave rise to this New York Times bestselling biography about the U.S. Supreme Court justice who won the Internet in her 80s. Ginsburg will speak at Meredith in September.
• "Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream" by Joshua Davis (UNC-Charlotte). This book tells the true story of four Latino teens who built a robot out of scavenged parts and won a contest against better-funded college teams. George Lopez, Marisa Tomei and Jamie Lee Curtis starred in the 2015 film of the same name.
• "We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter" by Celeste Headlee (Western Carolina University). A former NPR host "shows us how to bridge what divides us — by having real conversations." The book is based on Headlee's popular TED Talk, which has amassed 15 million views since 2015.
• "Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work" by Dave Isay (UNC-Asheville). Isay — the founder of StoryCorps, the effort to record and preserve Americans' stories — "presents unforgettable stories from people doing what they love."
• "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age" by Richard Louv (East Carolina University). Booklist called this work a "vital, inclusive and inspiriting call to better our lives by celebrating and protecting the living world."
• "Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood" by Trevor Noah (N.C. State University). In this New York Times bestseller, the comedian and host of TV's "The Daily Show" writes about his childhood in South Africa and his relationship with his mother.
• "There, There" by Tommy Orange (Duke University). This debut novel and Pulitzer Prize finalist follows 12 Native characters, all connected in some way, as they converge on the annual powwow in Oakland, Calif.
• "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson (Appalachian State). This perennial summer-reading favorite is the memoir of the Alabama lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative to defend death-row inmates and children sentenced to life without parole.
Now for some lists for your summer reading pleasure:
• Wake Forest University gives its incoming first-year students a menu of 35 books. Here's the Project Wake list for 2019. Only one book I mentioned earlier — "Just Mercy," of course — is on the Project Wake list. The two Project Wake books that I'd recommend are Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible" and Jesmyn Ward's "Sing, Unburied, Sing." Both are tremendous.
• UNCG's MFA Writing Program just put out a list of new books by program faculty and alums. That list includes the latest novel ("Prairie Fever") by just-retired professor Michael Parker; a new poetry collection ("As It Were") by former professor and former N.C. poet laureate Fred Chappell; and the 2018 book "Brass" by Xhenet Aliu, who will join UNCG's MFA faculty this fall.
• Penguin Random House rounded up the 2018 common reading selection for more than 500 colleges and universities. That list is here in ABC order by school.
• Inside Higher Ed notes that many of this year's selections "focus on issues facing marginalized communities" because of "continued conversations of diversity and racial tensions on college campuses." The Inside Higher Ed story notes several common reading selections from outside North Carolina.
• Finally, the National Association of Scholars has its own list of recommended summer reading, which starts on page 151 of its annual report of 2017-18 summer reading selections at U.S. colleges and universities. The NAS is no fan of common reading programs; most selections, it argues, "consist largely of mediocre, modern nonfiction, not suited to challenge students to college-level thought." Not surprisingly, then, the NAS list is heavy on older books from the Western canon. The only 21st century book to make the NAS list is a 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning account of George Washington crossing the Delaware.
P.S.: You might have noticed that there's no UNCG book listed here. That's because UNCG no longer assigns summer reading to its first-year students.
Emily Wiersma, associate director of First Year Experience, told me earlier this month that two things happened. First, UNCG surveys found that only about 30 percent of incoming students actually read the assigned book. And second, the grant that paid for the books, the author visit to campus and other related programs expired this year.
Wiersma said UNCG took the opportunity to revamp its Keker Common Experience into something that focused on more practical skills — time management, study strategies, note taking, career networking — that might help students do better in college. You can read more about that new approach here.
Hope you're having a great summer. See you in a couple of weeks.