What Should the College Kids Be Reading?

Last week, NPR talked about campus-wide reading programs in a piece called What The College Kids Are Reading. In recent years, colleges have been assigning a single book for students to read and discuss, regardless of their major or class schedule, in hopes of opening up the campus to a single idea. I know here in Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University focuses their program on incoming freshmen and chose The Circle by Dave Eggers last year. This time around freshmen will be reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman. The NPR piece has some great examples of common choices and got me thinking about what would be on my shortlist.

Missoula by John Krakauer

There has been a big push in recent years to bring workshops to college campuses to teach students about consent. While I think they are a fantastic idea, I also that that a book like Missoula, which focuses on a series of sexual assaults at the University of Montana, could potentially go a long way in changing the mindset of students and school cultures as a whole.

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

Welcome to Braggsville is a longshot, but it’s so perfect for something like this. It’s a story about a group of students who meet as freshmen in college and return to the rural home of the protagonist in order to stage a fake protest for one of their classes. It’s great practice in reading satire, but there are also dozens of topics to pull apart, namely the way the author sheds light on racism.
welcome to braggsville

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I think I was less than ten pages into Between the World and Me when I started thinking about how perfect it would be as a campus-wide read. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about race and culture with an unflinching honesty that can open doors for discussions we desperately need to be having.
between the world and me

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Even though I didn’t love Jon Ronson’s newest book, I do think it could be valuable if read and discussed widely. As an entire campus or class, students and professors would be able to really dig into the topic’s complexities and approach some of the issues I had with the book.
publicly shamed ronson

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibuscus was included on NPR’s list, but I’d also like to add in Americanah as a great choice. Like Purple Hibiscus, it examines the African diaspora, but is more focused on America’s perception of race and racism through the eyes of a non-American black woman.

Which books would you like to see as campus-wide reads?


  • Such a great list, Shannon; you’ve definitely picked some appropriate titles, I think. This would be a tough decision to make! I like that the program at VCU has such a diverse group of individuals on the selection committee; I’d love to be a fly on the wall during their discussions!

    • VCU really seems to do a great job with the program. Dave Eggers came to campus last year, so I’m hoping Jill Lepore will be here this time!

  • Steph

    Great list! I haven’t read any of these although Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favorite authors. Welcome to Braggsville, Between the World and Me, and Americanah are already on my to-read list. I am adding Missoula. This is a terrific topic for discussion — thanks for sharing this post.

    • We’ve probably read opposites on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, since I’ve read all but Purple Hibiscus – she’s so great!

  • Great list, and this is such a cool idea. I would have loved college-wide “book club”!

  • Good choices! I’m especially onboard with Between the World and Me since I’m basically in love with it.

  • I wish we would do this at our high school!

    • Hmmm, I wonder if some do? It would probably much more difficult, at least with some of these heavy topics, when it comes to parent approval – but it could be done with some adjustment!

  • These are great suggestions and I think the idea of having all students at a college read one book is a good one. I’m not sure what I would suggest, though.

  • Oh, Missoula would be a tremendous one. Gosh. That would be wonderful. You’ve compiled an awesome list here! I remember my college doing a group read of Fast Food Nation, but I’m pretty sure I skipped out on it.

    • I don’t think my college did one at all, but I wish they had. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for any colleges that pick up Missoula over the next few years.

  • These are fantastic choices! I think that Just Mercy would make another great selection.

    Apropos enough, two of my favorite books *ever* (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Mountains Beyond Mountains) came to me through campus-wide reading programs. It’s just that I read them each two or three years after I was originally supposed to. ;) I guess it all worked out OK in the end.

  • This is an interesting though exercise! You have some good choices here. I’d love to see The Future of Peace by Scott Hunt be the focus of campus reading programs. Or what about fiction? Maybe The Once and Future King by TH White would be a good choice.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    These are such great choices! We read The Kite Runner for our freshman seminar and I think it’s still a good choice. There’s so much to discuss in that one!

  • Kelly TheWellReadRedhead

    Excellent choices, especially Missoula, though I bet you anything my alma mater (UConn) would never choose it, seeing as how they are listed at the end as one of the schools being investigated for mishandling rape cases…yeah, a bit of bad PR, though of course for a very warranted reason.
    When I was a freshman at UConn, the school’s reading program choice was The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould…interesting stuff, though horrifically boring for a bunch of college freshmen. The next summer it was Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which went over much better, though they abandoned the reading program after that.
    When I worked at UAlbany, I remember 3 separate years they used Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. All were excellent…no idea if the freshmen enjoyed them as much as I did. :)

    • Ohh, those are all great books! And I always wonder how much the students get into the books when they’re actually reading them ;) I took a peek at the hashtag for VCU’s Wonder Woman reading and one of the first tweets I saw was, “I don’t want to read this.” Womp, womp.

  • Awesome list. I haven’t read any of these (yet….!) but I have a few on hold at the library and one (Adichie) sitting on my bookshelf waiting. All of these titles would be incredibly timely for young adults today. I read some good stuff in college, but kind of limited in reading literature as a music major (and I tested out of general English courses).

  • Great list of books Shannon. Clearly Missoula is a no-brainer, but the other ones are really important too, especially Coates given what’s been going on in the states lately.

  • These seem like great choices! I’d also recommend A Deadly Wandering. It really bring home the dangers of texting and driving.