For the last three years, Temple First-Year Programs has run the Freshman Summer Reading Project. This project is designed to get all incoming freshmen to read the same book the summer before they attend the University.
The book that Temple First-Year Programs asks incoming freshmen to read is determined by the Summer Reading Committee. By this time of year, the Summer Reading Committee would usually have chosen the book that all incoming freshmen will be asked to read, but this year the committee has run into unexpected snags.
The book the committee chooses must meet certain criteria, one of the most important being whether the book’s author is available to come to the University to speak with students. However, the authors of many of this year’s potential selections have said they are unable to travel to Temple.
According to Assistant Vice Provost Jodi Levine, who is currently the spokesperson for the Summer Reading Committee, the author’s visit is one of the most important and unique features of the project.
The author usually visits early in the fall semester and provides students with an opportunity to gain new insight into the book by talking with its author.
One of the primary reasons the authors of this year’s top choices are unavailable to travel to Temple is because most of them are also at the top of The New York Times bestseller list.
The reason most of the committee’s top choices are at the top of The New York Times bestseller list stems from the new method the committee employed this year in gathering potential candidates.
In past years, First-Year Programs has set up an online questionnaire where students and faculty were given the opportunity to nominate books. After reviewing the nominations, the Summer Reading Committee narrows them down and arrives at a final selection.
This year, in addition to setting up an online questionnaire, First-Year Programs sent out a questionnaire to gauge students’ reaction to last year’s selection. At the end of the questionnaire, students were asked to nominate books for this year’s Summer Reading Project.
Over 1,400 students responded to the questionnaire, and out of this response pool, the committee was given approximately 350 titles to work with when determining the 2005-2006 Summer Reading Project selection.
The committee eventually narrowed the pool of 350 down to a short list of seven books.
But since the majority of this year’s pool of selections came from students instead of from administrators, the selections have tended to be The New York Times bestsellers instead of lesser-known works.
Of course, authors who are lucky enough to be high on the The New York Times bestseller list are much busier than the average author.
The authors of the committee’s two prior favorites, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, have said they unable to travel to Temple, so the committee has decided to add four new books to its list of candidates.
At the moment, the committee’s new favorite is As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto, but Levine wishes to emphasize that this selection is far from final.
The committee’s goal is to choose a book that instructors will incorporate into their class discussions and that students will talk about with each other.
During the first two years of the Summer Reading Project the committee chose documentary works that had to do with demystifying things like American history and the fast-food industry. However, both last year’s selection and many of this year’s candidates deal with issues of identity.
Last year’s selection, Caucasia, by Danzy Senna, tells the story of a girl of mixed black and white ethnicity who must come to terms with her identity. This year’s former top candidate, The Kite Runner, deals with issues of Arab-American identity. The new top candidate, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, deals with problems of gender identity.
Although identity is a big issue on a campus as diverse as Temple’s, Levine does not want to pigeonhole the committee as being more concerned with one issue than another. She emphasizes that the committee is still relatively new, and that it is still trying to figure out what the goals of the Summer Reading Project should be.
Levine anticipates that the Summer Reading Committee will have made the 2005-2006 selection by the end of the month.
Daniel J. Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.