An Alternative Reading List for Incoming Freshmen

The National Association of Scholars, rebels, radicals, and revolutionaries all, have put out a reading list for incoming college freshmen. While it includes such classics as Augustine's Confessions, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, and William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways, I've never heard of quite a few of the 115 recommendations. Each is given with a justification for its inclusion, such as the following examples.

Chinua Achebe   THINGS FALL APART (1958)
Among the first African novels written in English, Things Fall Apart depicts the Igbo of southern Nigeria during the period of initial Western colonization. The protagonist is an ambitious young man in a traditional village who gains fame through a feat of wrestling and goes on to become a powerful leader, only to see his world collapse. We picked it because it is a classic indictment of colonialism but comes with the complicating twist that it is written in a colonial language by an author who has thoroughly absorbed a Western aesthetic sensibility, and because it puts the real questions of cultural relativism on the table.

Jim Dixon is a medieval history lecturer (and first-generation college student) who does not like academia, does not like academics, and is faced with the horrible prospect of spending the rest of his life in the pompous, affected world of the university. The funniest campus novel ever written, Lucky Jim will inoculate students against the self-importance of college life

One of the first great American evocations of the love of food—written during World War II food rationing, when the absence of food increased the love for it. We select this book as an alternate to the growing number of contemporary books on food selected for common readings, for 1) its literary quality; 2) its evocation of the American home front during World War II; 3) its important role in the birth of the food writing genre; 4) because Fisher turns love of food into something more than the hedonism of the well-fed; and 5) because her chapter “How to Keep Alive” gives very practical advice to a college student trying to feed himself on a tight budget.


james said...

The ones I've read I agree with. I notice a little lack in the technical realm, though. I'd include The Mythical Man-Month, and of course, How to Lie With Statistics. And Parkinson's Law.

The Mythical Man-Month is essential reading for understanding systems: how they are designed, built, maintained, and decay. The latter two are inextricably combined.

How to Lie With Statistics shows how to understand a fundamental aspect of the world: things that vary--like height, income, and the truthfulness of press releases.

Parkinson's Law humorously but accurately explains how bureaucracies evolve and why committees spend hours arguing about a coffeepot.

Grim said...

I disagree with the inclusion of The Last of the Mohicans. The only reason to read Cooper is to better appreciate Mark Twain's scathing review of his work.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The three you listed sound promising.

I agree with both comments thus far.

Texan99 said...

I truly hated Mohicans.

This has inspired me, however, to download the Kindle version of the Decipherment of Linear B.

james said...

I never read any of Cooper, even before reading Twain's essay. I gather his work might be useful in developing a history of "American views of the Indians." I read somewhere that descriptions were more romanticized/noble the farther the writer was from actual Indians.

Texan99 said...

It wasn't so much the treatment of the Indians, romanticized or not, that appalled me. It was the obsession with hidden racial taints in characters' backgrounds. Not only does Hawkeye obsess about being "a man without a cross," meaning all white with no Indian blood, but there's a lot of nonsense about the two women, the dark one apparently being suspected of some kind of racial impurity in her background, I forget what kind--black blood from the Caribbean, maybe? And that's supposed to explain her fate or her value.

The idea that you could get to know someone intimately, then find out something about their genetic detail and let that completely change your view: it's the most disgusting aspect of racism there is. It's just Nazi garbage no matter when or where it crops up.