The Winning Title for the 2013-2014 Freshman Common Reading at CSUN: Garbology
Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes
262 pages (and notes); 2012. Nonfiction.
Nominated by Debbi Mercado: "I think the book could result in a number of interesting campus projects and leave us all with a sense of empowerment and a desire to make some changes in our daily lives. . . . it provides great fodder for classroom discussions and even personal reflections about consumerism, waste, environmental issues, values, the daunting math of it all, and how we might each change our trash habits."
More information: NPR story "Following Garbage's Long Journey around the Earth" (26 Apr 2012).
The Three Other Finalists
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight about Animals by Hal Herzog
279 pages (plus notes); 2010.
Nominated by Erin Delaney: "The book discusses humans' interactions with animals, including our inconsistencies and ethical dilemmas. He makes some fascinating and controversial arguments that students could discuss. For example, he argues that it could be better to be a rooster destined for a cockfight than a chicken destined for a frying pan. I think the book is appealing because we all have some dealings with animals, whether it is taking care of pets, exterminating pests, or deciding which animals to eat (if any). I'm teaching the book this fall, and I'd be glad to report on how my students respond to it."
More information: author's website.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
256 pages; 2012.
Nominated by Harmanpreet Kaur Panesar: "This book is very powerful in both its content and language; it forces readers to think about people all over the world who spend their lives in poverty. Focusing on a group of people living in a slum located in a rapidly growing Indian city, Mumbai, the book feels as if it were a novel. However, it is non-fiction, unfortunately. Reading this book is a very humbling experience."
The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir by Michele Norris
206 pages; 2010.
Nominated by Tom Piernik: This book "is excellent in that it provides a compelling look into our very recent history and how it shapes a family. Michele Norris would be an incredible speaker for the Fresh Convocation 2013 as well; she could address issues of freedom of the airwaves as a sane and thoughtful member of the NPR staff beyond her compelling story."
The Remaining Nominated Titles
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
336 pages; 2010.
Nominated by Peter Grego in 2011; re-nominated in 2012 by Debra Malmberg.
More information: Washington Post book review; 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.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Antioxidants, Foods, Supplements, and Cosmetics by Gagik Melikyan
376 pages; 2010.
Nominated by Harmanpreet Kaur Panesar: "This book is an absolute eye-opener. It is the only one on the market that tells the truth about antioxidants, supplements, cosmetics, natural compounds, green tea, red wine, and sunscreen lotions. Written to educate the general public and to save lives, this book explains which chemical compounds are harmful, and why, and what needs to be done--on personal, community, state, and federal levels--to protect the American public. Overall, the content of this book is truly revolutionizing and life-changing."
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
448 pages; 2011.
Nominated by Melissa Marcussen: "Many express interest in the history of World War II, but how many know of the years and events that led up to it? This well-researched book provides an insight into a Germany on the road to one of the most atrocious wars in the history of the world. Focusing primarily on the perspective of U.S. diplomats to Germany, this book allows its readers to look into the mirror of the past and see a murky reflection of the world around them."
More information: New York Times book review.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser: A Novel by Lois Leveen
496 pages; 2012.
Nominated by Ellyn Gersh Lerner: "This is a fascinating historical novel based on the true story of a courageous woman, Mary Bowser. Born a slave, Mary was granted her freedom and sent to Philadelphia to be educated, and then returned to slavery to become a spy for the North by working in the Confederate White House. Issues and themes in this book are particularly relevant to University 100 but also offer insights into many topics — overcoming stereotypes, the power of education, the unknown heroes in history, parental expectations, and many more. At the same time, it is a tale of intrigue, love, and adventure. Definitely one to consider."
More information: author's website
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
228 pages; 1926.
Nominated by Eric Hanson: "The book's cover indicates that this is a fantasy book, and it is--but also a mystery and a philosophical tale. Definitely not Harry Potter or Tolkien-styled. The language and the writing is rich with words (some that have now gone out of usage, might need to crack a dictionary here and there) and ideas. Themes include Life vs. Art, Relationships, and Us vs. Them" (among others).
More information: Amazon customer reviews
1001 Nights in Iraq: The Shocking Story of an American Forced to Fight for Saddam against the Country He Loves by Shant Kenderian
290 pages; 2007.
Nominated by Sonya Manjikian: "The autobiographical story of a boy growing up with multinational status and getting caught between the complex society of the Middle East, the novelty of living in America, and the breakup of his family. A trip to his native Iraq in 1980 at age 17 becomes a 10-year ordeal during which he is forced to fight in Saddam's army through two wars. Against all odds, he survives, becomes one of the first Iraqi POWs of Desert Storm, and is eventually returned to the U.S. Today he holds a PhD and serves as a materials scientist for the Air Force space program. Kenderian's uplifting story demonstrates optimism in the face of hardship, respect for others, and steadfast faith in the goodness of living in this world."
More information: Kenderian reads from the book and talks about his experiences on This American Life: "Star-Crossed Love," 10 Feb 2006.
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
272 pages; 2012.
Nominated by Lindsay Hansen: "Although this is a controversial title (some members of the Hasidic community claim the book is filled with lies), it is a beautifully written memoir that gives a shocking introduction to a closed community. Feldman addresses several issues: education, independence, mental health, sexuality, and reading. I could see this book working well in the curricula of many different classes, and it would be very difficult for a student not to reflect on at least one aspect of the book."
More information: publisher's book group questions. Amazon's "About the Author" says, "Deborah Feldman was raised in the Hasidic community of Satmar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She attends Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City with her son."
Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie
189 pages; 2011.
Nominated by Mary Kombazdjian: "In Start Something that Matters, Mycoskie tells the story of the shoe company TOMS, which is most recognized for their charitable 'One for One' campaign. In this book, Mycoskie gives advice to other people who want to start something that matters and details how he started TOMS in addition to the challenges he faced/overcame. Mycoskie offers realistic advice by sharing anecdotes about his own experience and as well as other professionals' stories."
More information: this Los Angeles Times book review seems fair. The fine print on the cover of the hardback (pictured) promises that "With every book you purchase, a new book will be provided to a child in need. One for One."
Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
288 pages; 2005.
Nominated by Anonymous (let me know if you want to be named).
More information: author's website. Amazon description: "A wry account of the road from Harvard scholarship student to ordination as northern Thailand's first black Buddhist nun. Reluctantly leaving behind Pop Tarts and pop culture to battle flying rats, hissing cobras, forest fires, and decomposing corpses, Faith Adiele shows readers in this personal narrative, with accompanying journal entries, that the path to faith is full of conflicts for even the most devout. Residing in a forest temple, she endured nineteen-hour daily meditations, living on a single daily meal, and days without speaking. Internally Adiele battled against loneliness, fear, hunger, sexual desire, resistance to the Buddhist worldview, and her own rebellious Western ego. Adiele demystifies Eastern philosophy and demonstrates the value of developing any practice—Buddhist or not. . . .Her witty, defiant twist on the standard coming-of-age tale suggests that we each hold the key to overcoming anger, fear, and addiction; accepting family; redefining success; and re-creating community and quality of life in today's world."
The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West
222 pages; 2012.
Nominated by Brenda Morales.
More information: view The Colbert Report for an interview with the authors. Smiley explains: "Poverty threatens our democracy."IndieBound: "With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it's too late. As the middle class disappears and the safety net is shredded, Smiley and West, building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., ask us to confront our fear and complacency with 12 poverty-changing ideas."
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
320 pages; 2008.
Nominated by Beth Lasky: " Half the Sky is a call to action. Not only does the book discuss the importance of education, it is a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. I can not imagine anyone who will not benefit from reading this book and immediately want to get involved."
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
336 pages; 2012.
Nominated by Peter Grego: "Magnificent! A 26-year-old woman's life crashes and she hikes the Pacific Crest trail...and finds herself walking the entire 1000+ miles. Written 15 years after she does it so there's great mature perspective."
Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
320 pages; 2007.
Nominated by Cynthia Desrochers: "This book hooks the reader quickly and focuses on a subject of historical importance--the fate of Jews in Paris during WWII. While the plot is perhaps predictable, that may be an asset for novice readers who discover that they can successfully predict what's coming."
More information from the Indie Booksellers website: "Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah."