CSUN's Freshman Common Reading

The winning title for 2012-2013

Cover of "One Amazing Thing" by Chitra Divakaruni showing three dried long-stemmed pink roses.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni

240 pages; 2010.

Nominated by Erin Delaney: "The book is beautifully written. I especially liked the way the characters analyzed each other's stories."

More information: Nine strangers trapped in a basement office after an earthquake deal with fear, hunger, thirst, and an ominous flood by telling their stories to one another. See the author's website and Amazon reviews.


The five other finalists for 2012-2013

Cover of Outliers showing marbles--I think--with a single larger marble set apart from the rest.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

309 pages; 2008.

Nominated by Tae Oh: "a good combination of inspiration and intellectual approach on how to accomplish things such as doing well in college."

More information: the Wikipedia entry offers snippets from several reviews of the book as well as a synopsis and a brief biography. If you've heard of "the 10,000 hour rule," you've heard of Outliers. Gladwell's website includes lots of information about the book.


A lone tree stands next to an abandoned house in a desert landscape dwarfed by the sky.

The Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

220 pages; 2004.

Nominated by Sharron Kollmeyer Gerfen.

More information: UC Davis has an interactive map about Route 666. See also this long review in The Atlantic Monthly, which describes the book as "The single most compelling, lucid, and lyrical contemporary account of the absurdity of U.S. border policy."


Looking down a straight highway under a cloudless blue sky.

Leaving Home: Stories selected by Hazel Rochman and Darlene Z. McCampbell

227 pages; 1997.

Nominated by Sharron Kollmeyer Gerfen.

More information: Amazon.com; publisher's website. Stories by Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O'Brien, Edward P. Jones, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Gary Soto, Toni Morrison, et al.


Cover of "Room" with title written as if by a child using pastel crayons

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

336 pages; 2010.

Nominated by Peter Grego.

More information: author's website. “The story of a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. When he turns five, he starts to ask questions.” Horror story; or, perhaps, a story about maternal love keeping horror at bay.


Cover of the book with the title scrawled childishly in chalk as if on a school blackboard

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

272 pages; 2000.

Nominated by Alexa Dimakos.

More information: "Go Carolina" (ch. 1 of the book); see also "A Tanorexic in the Family" by Jonathan Reynolds (New York Times 4 June 2000). Autobiographical comic essays. Sedaris will speak on campus at the Valley Performing Arts Center on 11/20/2011. (Image: source.)


Other titles nominated for 2012-2013

Two boys--one dressed in black and carrying knife, the other aided by a golden griffin--battle in mid-air high above an exotic city.

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

400 pages; 2001.

Nominated by Jackie Stallcup: "A funny, raucous tale of six freshman students starting their studies at a Wizarding University that has fallen on hard times. . . . the novel captures academic politics and the feeling of stretching one’s wings in an exciting new environment (that isn’t always entirely friendly to one’s ambitions). . . . I think our students will identify with . . . the exploration of family relationships."

More information: see Powell's Books and Amazon.com. Also by this author: Howl's Moving Castle.


A white swan is silhouetted against a black background with a green stripe running down the right border of this book cover.

Black Swan Green: A Novel by David Mitchell

304 pages; 2006.

Nominated by Donna Stone: " The 13-year-old protagonist, who has a stammer, is negotiating his way through the social hierarchy of his peers and also trying to understand the adult world, which he’s on the cusp of but doesn’t have sufficient maturity to comprehend fully. The language is fabulous, and this author really evokes what it feels like to be at that most awkward age."

More information: New York Times book review; New Yorker book review.


Cover of "What Is the What" shows the woodcut-style portrait of a dark-skinned man in silhouette against an orange  (desert?) and blue (sky?) background with trees suggestive of Africa.

What Is the What?: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers

475 pages; 2006.

Nominated by Debra Berry Malmberg.

More information: "Billed as a novel, What Is the What is more a work of imaginary journalism: Valentino is an actual refugee, whom Eggers spent years interviewing." (Review by David Amsden, New York Magazine.) See also Francine Prose, New York Times Sunday Book Review, and the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation website.


Book cover shows two girls in summer dresses running away down a broad sidewalk.

Whistling in the Dark: A Novel by Leslie Kagen

336 pages; 2007.

Nominated by Sharron Kollmeyer Gerfen.

More information: author's website; "Fox Cities [Wisconsin] Reads" book choice for 2010. Story of two neglected little girls in 1959 as they care for one another while seeking to avoid a murderer/molester.


Cover photo shows a crowd shot of well-dressed people (African-American) lined up along the front facade of a three-story building as if to view a parade or procession.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

600+ pages; 2010.

Nominated by Sharron Kollmeyer Gerfen: "beautifully written."

More information: author's website; Amazon (photos, video, reviews....). A story about 3 of the six million African-Americans who headed north and west after World War I.


Two children walk by an iron railing above the sea; the girl has a Japanese umbrella; the boy, a plain black American umbrella and a lunchbox.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel by Jamie Ford

285 pages; 2009.

Nominated by Bradley M. Reynolds.

More information: Reading Guide (author's website); Ford narrates a YouTube video of locations in the novel. A father and son; a childhood love lost in the aftermath of Executive Order 9066 and then rediscovered, unexpectedly, decades later.


Cover of "The Help" showing three birds on a telephone wire against a golden background.

The Help: A Novel by Kathryn Stockett

450+ pages; 2009.

Nominated by Erin Delaney: "a story of a young journalist in early 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, recording the stories of 'the help'--the African-American women who work for white women as maids and nannies... a heartfelt portrayal of an emotionally-wrought situation."

More information: Huffington Post book review


Cover of "Just Like Us" showing a sad young woman gazing down and off to her left.

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America by Helen Thorpe

416 pages; 2009.

Nominated by Melissa Marcussen; previously nominated by Scott Andrews (for 2011-2012).

More information: Undocumented immigrants in Denver viewed close-up. New Yorker brief book review; longer discussion by CSUN professor Scott Andrews on CSUN's Common Reading blog.


Mountain-top view of a city (presumably of Kabul, Afghanistan) with a single kite flying high in the clouds.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

371 pages; 2003.

Nominated by Melissa Marcussen; previously nominated by Richard Battaglia (for 2008-2009).

More information: Afghan boyhood friendship recollected—with shame and guilt—by a doctor now living in California. See the review in the New York Times; info about the 2007 movie from IMDB.


A dark-skinned man wearing long white robes and matching headcover walks away into the African landscape.

The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

224 pages; 2008.

Nominated by Debbi Mercado: "Beautifully written, accessible, important, 224 pages. I loved it."

More information: Hari was a translator in Sudan. Violence, imprisonment, and eventually rescue. Now he lives in the USA. "Additional Resources" from the publisher's website; and see this Amazon review.


A few human warriors fly into the thick of a fierce air and ocean battle between sandworms and ominous flying creatures.

Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

496 pages; 2007.

Nominated by Johnie Scott: "very entertaining...lays [the] foundation for lots of discussion."

More information: Humans vs. thinking machines. A complex plot; futuristic; wars, robots, the end of civilization…. See also Amazon and Wikipedia.


A lone figure appears to summon a gigantic sandworm in a desert landscape dominated by fiery orange clouds.

Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert

4oo+ pages; 1984.

Nominated by Johnie Scott: "a universe dominated by women -- the Bene Gesserit on the one hand and the Honored Matres on the other -- with a surprise third element which elevates this series to the level of allegory."

More information: http://www.challengingdestiny.com/reviews/dune5.htm


A lone figure stands atop a ruined column amidst wreckage, gazing at a distant nebula galaxy.

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov

480 pages; 1982.

Nominated by Johnie Scott: "one of the true classics of the sci-fi genre."

More information: Duelling empires in a galactic future. See http://www.worldswithoutend.com/novel.asp?ID=30


A dozen cubes each labeled as Fig. 1, Fig. 2, and so on, with pastel colors emphasizing their three-dimensionality.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott

416 pages; 1884. Rpt. often; available free online.

Nominated by Say-Peng Lim.

More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland. Satirical novella about Victorian England


Clueless clerk ponders atoms and the cosmos

Mr Tompkins in Paperback by George Gamow

186 pages; 1945 and 1948; rev. 1965.

Nominated by Say-Peng Lim; contains "Mr Tompkins in Wonderland" and "Mr Tompkins Explores the Atom."

More information: Structured as a series of dreams; characters’ adventures explain scientific theories to the rest of us. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr_Tompkins


Cover shows childish stick-figure and title printed as if by a child with a crayon

Orfan: A Novel by Corie Skolnick

368 pages; 2010.

Nominated by Corie Skolnick: "Orfan was born at CSUN in my own upper division writing intensive course, The Psychological Aspects of Parenthood, when I organized a panel of speakers on the subject of adoption. The panel stories provided both subject matter and inspiration for the finished manuscript."

More information: http://bookchase.blogspot.com/2011/05/orfan.html


Black-and-white photo of a beautifully dressed, spirited woman with hands on hips  smiling at the camera; backdrop is a brightly colored close-up of cancer cells.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

384 pages; 2010.

Nominated by Kate Gurewitz: "Non-fiction; a black woman's cancer cells were isolated and duplicated without her knowledge. She died without knowing that this line of cells would eventually be used (and profited from) by scientists all over the world. Presents all sorts of interesting ethical/moral questions."

More information: http://rebeccaskloot.com/the-immortal-life/


Family traveling by wagon on a dirt road.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

416 pages; 2003.

Nominated by Johnie Scott: "the required reading for PAS 155 Approaches to University Writing courses for 2011."

More information: A former slave builds his own epic family empire. See http://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm?book_number=1279


UPC code superimposed over a crouching red primate.

Next: A Novel by Michael Crichton

448 pages; 2006.

Nominated by Irene Clark: "It raises interesting issues about biotechnology and could generate thought-provoking assignments. It's also lots of fun to read."

More information: The drama and controversy surrounding gene patents. See http://www.michaelcrichton.net/books-next-history.html


Got opinions about books for next year? Blog with us.

If you'd like to share your own opinions about any of the nominated books, please do! You can submit your opinions to the CSUN Common Reading Blog: http://csunreading.tumblr.com/

How did we select the winner?

The Common Reading Selection Committee typically meets twice during each academic year: once in late October to choose finalists from the list of nominated titles; and a second time the following January to select the winning title for the next academic year.

Members of the Selection Committee volunteer their service each year. CSUN students, staff, and faculty are all welcome to join. If you would like to join next year's committee, please contact Cheryl Spector at x3932 or via email at cheryl.spector@csun.edu before mid-October. Think you're not ready? You may be right--but CSUN freshmen have played a crucial role in our selection process every year since 2008.

CSUN's Common Reading Archives

2010-2011: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

2009-2010: The Soloist

2008-2009: Nickel and Dimed

2007-2008: The Things They Carried

What books are other campuses reading?

Check the list maintained by librarian Barbara Fister at Gustavus Adolphus College: http://homepages.gac.edu/~fister/onebook.html