Common Reads: Freshman Year Reading

Hoping to unite a college community in thought and discussion, colleges and universities across the nation participate in Common Reads, or First-Year Reading programs, assigning incoming freshman classes the same book to read over the summer. Our Common Reads study guide collection of fiction and nonfiction works spans a wide range of topics, from politics and memoirs to world history and social justice issues. We hope this collection serves as a resource for inspiring energetic discussions in the fall semester and helping students get the most out of their freshman-year experience.

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Coming of Age, Emotions/Behavior: Apathy, Emotions/Behavior: Regret, Natural World: Animals, Natural World: Climate, Natural World: Environment, Relationships: Family, Values/Ideas: Art, Values/Ideas: Religion & SpiritualityTags Climate Change, Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

Publication year 1989Genre Play, FictionThemes Society: War, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Values/Ideas: Truth & LiesTags Military / War, Play: Drama, Crime / Legal, Social Justice, Politics / Government

A Few Good Men is a play written by Aaron Sorkin and first performed in 1989. The story involves a military lawyer who defends two Marines accused of murder. The play was well-received, and Sorkin adapted it into a screenplay for the film of the same name (released in 1992), which was a popular and critical success.Plot SummaryA Few Good Men opens as two Marines, Downey and Dawson, recall the details of a nighttime incident... Read A Few Good Men Summary

Publication year 2016Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: FriendshipTags Historical Fiction

Published in 2016, A Gentleman in Moscow, by American author Amor Towles, is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian nobleman who, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, is sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The Count must adjust not only to his new circumstances in a small room in the hotel’s belfry but also to the knowledge that his way of life is disappearing under the Bolshevik regime. As the years... Read A Gentleman in Moscow Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Anthology/Varied Collection, NonfictionThemes Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Climate Change, Science / Nature, Gender / Feminism, Women's Studies (Nonfiction)

Publication year 2018Genre Essay Collection, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Society: Immigration, Society: CommunityTags Immigration / Refugee

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures (2018) is an essay collection edited by actress and activist America Ferrera with E. Cayce Dumont. The collection contains essays from notable individuals in movie and TV entertainment, food, publishing, public service, comedy, music, and self-help content creation. These first-person accounts all address the often troublesome question of what it means to be American, especially when growing up between different cultures. American Like Me is a New... Read American Like Me Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Teams, Society: Community, Society: Class, Relationships: Friendship, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Sports, Race / Racism, History: U.S., African American Literature

Publication year 2021Genre Novella, FictionThemes Relationships: Friendship, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: GratitudeTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Fantasy, LGBTQ, Action / Adventure

Publication year 1965Genre Poem, FictionThemes Identity: Gender, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Identity: Femininity, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Values/Ideas: Order & ChaosTags Free verse, Animals, Race / Racism, Gender / Feminism, Confessional

Publication year 269Genre Essay Collection, NonfictionThemes Society: Education, Natural World: Environment, Natural World: Animals, Society: EconomicsTags Education, Science / Nature, Philosophy

A Sand County Almanac is a 1949 nonfiction book by the American naturalist and writer Aldo Leopold. The book is structured as a series of essays, beginning with Leopold’s description of a year on his farm and progressing to a series of essays on humanity’s relationship with nature, culminating in an argument for an ethical approach to the land. Published by Oxford University Press a year after Leopold’s death, the book is credited with having... Read A Sand County Almanac Summary

Publication year 1988Genre Essay / Speech, NonfictionThemes Society: Politics & Government, Society: Colonialism, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & Anger, Society: Class, Society: Education, Society: Economics, Values/Ideas: Truth & Lies, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Power & GreedTags Creative Nonfiction, Afro-Caribbean Literature, History: World, Politics / Government, Black Lives Matter

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid is a work of creative nonfiction originally published in 1988. Kincaid shares memories of her home country, Antigua, both while it was under colonial rule and self-governance. She illustrates how life has and hasn’t changed for Antiguan citizens because of government corruption, the legacies of slavery, and the preoccupation with tourism over public welfare. Though the book won no awards, Kincaid has won a plethora of awards for her... Read A Small Place Summary

Publication year 1791Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Fame, Society: Community, Society: Politics & Government, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Life/Time: Midlife, Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags History: U.S., Politics / Government, Inspirational, American Revolution, Age of Enlightenment

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was written in pieces from 1771 to 1790. The work was first published in 1791 in Paris, France, after Franklin’s death as The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin. The autobiography was then published in London in 1793. In his writing, Franklin reflects upon his academic, professional, and philosophical pursuits. He examines how he advanced his economic and social standing during the formation of the United States, covering from... Read Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Summary

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: Economics, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Society: Class, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Equality, Identity: RaceTags Technology, Politics / Government, Sociology, Science / Nature, Social Justice, Race / Racism, Poverty, Class, History: U.S.

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionTags Crime / Legal

One of the great corporate frauds of the 21st century, the Theranos blood-test scam, is brought to light in the award-winning bestseller Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, published in 2018 and updated in 2020. Author John Carreyrou, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, brings his years of experience to the case against tech startup Theranos and its spellbinding CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. The Vintage Books... Read Bad Blood Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Equality, Society: Community, Society: Education, Society: Politics & Government, Identity: DisabilityTags Disability, Social Justice, History: U.S., Politics / Government

Publication year 2020Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Friendship, Identity: Race, Self Discovery, Society: CommunityTags Self Help, Gender / Feminism

Publication year 2013Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: Community, Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Equality, Identity: GenderTags Psychology, Race / Racism, Science / Nature, Social Justice, Sociology

Publication year 2016Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Society: Colonialism, Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Race / Racism, History: African

Born a Crime is a comedic autobiographical work chronicling Trevor Noah’s childhood growing up in South Africa. Published in 2016, it became a New York Times Bestseller, and it’s currently being adapted into a film. Born a Crime doesn’t follow a linear timeline; rather, the narrative jumps around, offering anecdotes from Noah’s past. Before each chapter begins, there’s a prologue that’s related to the content of the upcoming chapter. Usually, these sections provide historical facts... Read Born a Crime Summary

Publication year 2016Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Emotions/Behavior: Joy, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Life/Time: Midlife, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Relationships: Family, Relationships: Friendship, Self Discovery, Society: Community, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Fate, Values/Ideas: Art, Values/Ideas: Fame, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Music, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Values/Ideas: Trust & Doubt, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Values/Ideas: Truth & LiesTags Music, Arts / Culture, Mental Illness, Social Justice

Publication year 2013Genre Book, NonfictionTags Science / Nature

Written in 2013, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is a nonfiction book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The work examines modern botany and environmentalism through the lens of the traditions and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of North America. Through a series of personal reflections, the author explores the connection between living things and human efforts to cultivate a more sustainable... Read Braiding Sweetgrass Summary

Publication year 1994Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Mothers, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Emotions/Behavior: Forgiveness, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Identity: Gender, Identity: Race, Society: ColonialismTags Historical Fiction, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Gender / Feminism, Afro-Caribbean Literature

Breath, Eyes, Memory is a novel by Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat, first published in 1994. The book is semi-autobiographical: like the protagonist, 12-year-old Sophie Caco, Danticat herself was born in Haiti but moved to the United States at a young age. She has since written several novels and short stories about Haiti, immigration, and the complex ways that one’s identity is formed by where they are from and where they now live. The novel... Read Breath, Eyes, Memory Summary

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Society: Politics & Government, Society: NationTags History: U.S., Politics / Government, Race / Racism, Sociology, Military / War, Crime / Legal

Publication year 2014Genre Novel/Book in Verse, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Race / Racism, Narrative / Epic Poem, Auto/Biographical Fiction, Children's Literature

Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) is a memoir in verse by Jacqueline Woodson, a children’s and young adult fiction writer. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of the Penguin Group, the memoir won the National Book Award, the Newberry Honor Book Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award.Plot SummaryBrown Girl Dreaming covers Woodson’s childhood, detailing her family history and her beginnings as a writer. Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, on February 12, 1963, the... Read Brown Girl Dreaming Summary

Publication year 2016Genre Poem, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Race / Racism, Relationships, African American Literature

Publication year 2002Genre Reference/Text Book, NonfictionThemes Identity: Language, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Relationships: TeamsTags Self Help, Business / Economics, Leadership/Organization/Management

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High (2002) was written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler, and Ron McMillan. It has become a cornerstone of the field of interpersonal communication and self-improvement, offering insights into the dynamics that govern our most vital conversations. Both Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny are leading authorities on organizational change and have advised some of the world’s largest organizations. Al Switzler is a renowned speaker and... Read Crucial Conversations Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Anthology/Varied Collection, NonfictionTags Disability, Social Justice, Diversity

Publication year 2012Genre Play, Fiction

Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, premiered in Chicago in 2012. Later that year, the play opened Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center. Disgraced won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013, opened on the West End in 2014, and made its Broadway premiere in 2015. Like the main character, Amir Akhtar is the son of Pakistani-American immigrants and was born in the United States. His work addresses the experience of being Muslim in America and the way Islamophobia... Read Disgraced Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Book, NonfictionTags Politics / Government

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Bloomsburg Press, 2015) is a nonfiction book by American journalist and writer Sam Quinones. It won the NBCC Award for General Nonfiction and was on Amazon’s list of best books of the year in 2015 as well as Slate’s list of the 50 best books of the past 25 years. In the book Quinones charts the parallel rise of prescription opiates and black tar heroin, and describes... Read Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic Summary

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionTags Gender / Feminism, Race / Racism, Social Justice, Politics / Government

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: Economics, Society: Class, Society: Education, Society: Globalization, Society: Nation, Society: Politics & Government, Emotions/Behavior: Nostalgia, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Values/Ideas: Truth & LiesTags Philosophy, Science / Nature, Psychology, Sociology, Politics / Government, Health / Medicine, Agriculture, Business / Economics, Class, Climate Change, Social Justice

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: Globalization, Values/Ideas: Trust & DoubtTags Sociology, Science / Nature

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, written by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, was published by Flatiron Books in 2018. This book examines how people across cultures view the world through a negative lens, which leads them to believe conditions everywhere are declining. Doctor and global health expert Hans Rosling offers research and anecdotes from his medical experience and his lectures to unpack... Read Factfulness Summary

Publication year 2018Genre Short Story Collection, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Society: Class, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Race / Racism, Horror / Thriller / Suspense Fiction, Fantasy

Publication year 2021Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Natural World: Environment, Natural World: Animals, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Values/Ideas: EqualityTags Science / Nature, Animals, Crime / Legal, Humor

Publication year 2019Genre Graphic Memoir , NonfictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Race, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Relationships: Friendship, Relationships: Mothers, Relationships: Siblings, Relationships: Marriage, Relationships: Fathers, Society: Community, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: The Future, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: LonelinessTags Race / Racism, Politics / Government, September 11 Attacks, Relationships, LGBTQ, Grief / Death, Parenting, Social Justice, Immigration / Refugee

Publication year 2016Genre Book, NonfictionTags Chinese Literature, Asian Literature

Angela Duckworth’s best-selling 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance describes how persistent practice, and not mere talent, is the key to success among students and professionals. Duckworth’s extensive research demonstrates that young people do best in activities that hold their interest and give them a sense of purpose. This encourages them to practice hard and overcome obstacles until they achieve mastery and success in school and, later, in their professional lives. The... Read Grit Summary

Publication year 1990Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Language, Values/Ideas: Literature, Society: Politics & Government, Natural World: Appearance & RealityTags Magical Realism, Fantasy, Allegory / Fable / Parable, History: Asian

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a 1990 book for young adults, written by Salman Rushdie. Haroun is the follow-up to Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, which was deemed blasphemous by the Ayatollah (a high-ranking Iranian clergyman) at the time, who pronounced a death sentence on the author. As a response to the ayatollah’s decree, Haroun explores themes of free speech, the need for storytelling, and the value of fiction.Plot SummaryThe novel begins with... Read Haroun and the Sea of Stories Summary

Publication year 2018Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Society: ClassTags Politics / Government, Class

Heartland (2018) is both a memoir of Sarah Smarsh’s upbringing in rural Kansas as the daughter of working-class people and an exploration of the class system in America today. The book is subtitled: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth; this hits the core of the book, as Smarsh seeks to use her family’s anecdotes and memories to get to the truth of why mostly honest, hardworking people... Read Heartland Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Music, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Art, Values/Ideas: Science & TechnologyTags Music

Publication year 2022Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Guilt, Emotions/Behavior: Regret, Identity: Mental HealthTags Philosophy, Humor, Self Help, Psychology

Publication year 2013Genre Essay Collection, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Identity: Language, Identity: MasculinityTags Creative Nonfiction, Race / Racism, Relationships, Social Justice, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, African American Literature

Publication year 2022Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: courage, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Identity: Sexuality, Relationships: Teams, Society: Colonialism, Society: Community, Society: Economics, Society: Education, Society: Globalization, Society: Nation, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Literature, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Values/Ideas: Trust & Doubt, Values/Ideas: Truth & LiesTags Politics / Government, History: Asian, Journalism, Social Justice

Publication year 2022Genre Short Story Collection, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Society: Immigration, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Identity: RaceTags Historical Fiction, Race / Racism, African American Literature

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Race, Society: Nation, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Realistic Fiction, Allegory / Fable / Parable, Race / Racism, Arts / Culture, Diversity, History: U.S., Asian Literature, American Literature

Publication year 2000Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Natural World: Animals, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Society: EconomicsTags History: U.S., Action / Adventure

While many know the story of the sinking of the Titanic, fewer have heard the story of the Essex, a whaling ship that was sunk after being repeatedly rammed by an enormous whale during a whaling expedition in 1820. At one time, however, the story of the Essex was the most famous story of maritime tragedy in the United States, even inspiring certain aspects of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. Nathaniel Philbrick’s account of the journey... Read In the Heart of the Sea Summary

Publication year 1950Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Safety & DangerTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Classic Fiction

I, Robot, a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, is a set of stories about the first robotic machines and the problems and pitfalls of living with and working alongside them. The book is the first in a series of several novels about robots; it is famous for its Three Laws of Robotics that govern machine behavior, and for its device, the positronic brain, which contains a robot’s conscious intelligence.Asimov (1920-1992) is one of the... Read I, Robot Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: MusicTags History: U.S., Crime / Legal

Part memoir, part exhortation for much-needed reform to the American criminal justice system, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a heartrending and inspirational call to arms written by the activist lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based organization responsible for freeing or reducing the sentences of scores of wrongfully convicted individuals. Stevenson’s memoir weaves together personal stories from his years as a lawyer with strong statements against racial and legal injustice, drawing a clear... Read Just Mercy Summary

Publication year 2011Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Society: War, Emotions/Behavior: Guilt, Relationships: Family, Relationships: Friendship, Relationships: TeamsTags Travel Literature, Inspirational, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Military / War, Love / Sexuality, Social Justice

Publication year 2019Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Society: Class, Identity: Femininity, Identity: Mental Health, Relationships: MothersTags Sociology, Poverty

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive is Stephanie Land’s first book. Land is a former professional house cleaner whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. Her writing explores issues related to systemic poverty, the hardships and stigmas associated with social services, surviving in the gig economy, and the challenges of motherhood. Maid was originally inspired by a Vox article she wrote about... Read Maid Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: Education, Values/Ideas: Science & TechnologyTags Education, Psychology, Self Help, Science / Nature

Publication year 2016Genre Graphic Memoir , NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: EqualityTags Civil Rights / Jim Crow, History: U.S., Race / Racism, Social Justice

Publication year 1986Genre Graphic Novel/Book, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Friendship, Relationships: Family, Values/Ideas: FateTags History: World, WWII / World War II, Holocaust, History: European, Post Modernism

Maus by Art Spiegelman is the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. It originally ran in Spiegelman’s Raw magazine between 1980 and 1991 before receiving mainstream attention as two collected volumes, Maus I in 1986 and Maus II in 1991. This guide is based on the 1996 complete edition. This historic memoir interlaces two narratives, one of Spiegelman’s Jewish father as he survives World War II Poland and the Auschwitz concentration camp, and... Read Maus Summary