Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What to Read When You're a Freshmen

Slate has posted an article on what books incoming freshmen should read.  As someone who has recently ended her undergraduate career, I feel like I have a sense of what these incoming freshmen look like, as I spent the last three years watching the freshmen coming in, and then previous to that, was one of those members of a strange breed. 
So here I present a little list of things I think incoming freshmen should read:
Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek.  A lot of schools would probably be tempted to assign Cisneros's better known novel, The House on Mango Street.  There's nothing wrong with this novel, in fact, it's perfect and the sort of book a poet would like.  But Woman Hollering Creek, a collection of short stories, looks at a larger group of mostly women, each struggling for a life that is there own and no one else's.  Perfect for college kids looking to cut those strings and hopefully, a chance to talk about race, gender and immigration. 
Jane Vincent Taylor's What Can Be Saved.  I've never heard of a college assigning a book of poetry.  (It turns students off, because poetry is apparently hard.)  But Taylor's poetry here is one continuous story narrated through two of the character, Mother and Lovey.  Mother is really an older woman caring for Lovey, a young woman with an unnamed condition.  It's easy to forget that there are people out there who aren't so privileged and aren't lucky enough to get a college education, and here these characters are lovingly rendered. 
Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound.  A play about knowledge and who does and doesn't deserve it.  Perfect for a discussion of the same problem. 
Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's The Roaring Girl.  Another play, one from the time of the Shakespeare that isn't actually from Shakespeare.  Everyone reads that man, but forgets that there were other playwrights working at the same time, and some of them also had interesting thoughts on issues like gender, as with this play, which deals with a crossdresser based on a real woman. 
Christopher Tyerman's God's War: A New History of the Crusades.  The bad news: We're fighting a war in the Middle East, one that is sadly tied with religion.  The good news: The West tried this before.  Even worse news: The West lost the first time.  The best news: We don't have to repeat their mistakes.  Tyerman's book is an excellently written and exciting account of the Crusades (all of them.  All.) and a great way to begin a discussion on the current War on Terror from a more historical and cultural perspective. 
Toni Morrison's Sula.  This novel is perfect for college kids because it's about a friendship between two girls, Sula and Nel.  One goes to college, one doesn't, and when the one who did returns, their relationship falls apart, but they still love each other.  A cautionary tale for all those who left someone behind. 
Willy Russell's Educating RitaAnother great story about college, but, again, from someone less privileged.  Rita, a woman in her late twenties, tries to educate herself through England's Open University Program, and ends up also educating her well-off tutor.   
Michael Frayn's Copenhagen.  Like a lot of the books on this list, this one is of a play, not a novel or nonfiction work.  It explores the issues of truth, responsibility and science: all important issues that affect college students, no matter where they go or what they study. 

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