Universities Assign Simplistic, Childish Books as Common Reading for Incoming Freshmen

Reading a book is like going to a dinner party. You agree not just to spend time with your host, the author, but with all the other invited guests—your fellow readers. If the party goes well, you meet people you like, and you definitely have something to talk about.

Colleges and universities have caught onto this idea. From Princeton University to tiny Hesston College in Kansas (“Start here, go everywhere”), some 350 institutions of higher learning this year assigned a single book that all the freshmen were asked to read. As the colleges see it, these common reading programs “build community.” Between the hors d’oeuvres and the demitasse, the students will discover their mutual admiration of…Homer, Proust, Hemingway? No, not quite.

The host books of these community-building parties definitely aren’t classics. The seven most assigned books this year are:

The Other Wes Moore

16 colleges, including Kansas State University, assigned this 2011 memoir by Rhodes Scholar Wes Moore in which he contrasts his fortunate life with a namesake crack dealer in prison for murder.

Just Mercy

14 colleges, including the University of Wisconsin, Madison, assigned this 2014 account of author Bryan Stevenson’s successful efforts to spring a black man in Alabama wrongfully convicted of murder.

The Circle

6 colleges, including the University of Tennessee, assigned this 2014 novel by Dave Eggers depicting a Google-like corporation’s attempt to take over the world.