The Winning Title for the 2013-2014 Freshman Common Reading at CSUN: Garbology

Cover shows the title and author against background photos of huge piles of garbage

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

Book cover shows a dog, a rat, and a pig--one we love, one we hate, one we eat.

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.


Cover shows a child in a shanty town, lifting her face to the sky; in the far distance behind her is a tall modern building.

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."

More information: 2012 National Book Award winner, nonfiction. New York Times book review; a "teacher's guide" from the publisher; the author's website with discussion guide and more.


Cover shows photos of three members of the author's family in sepia tones; each face is slightly blurred.

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."

More information: Los Angeles Times book review by Sandy Banks; author's website with reading group guide and more; Sacramento State "One Book" choice for 2011-2012.


The Remaining Nominated Titles

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 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.


Book cover shows the title

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."

More information: author’s website: The author is a professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at CSUN.


Cover shows a night view of Berlin draped in Nazi banners.

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.


Cover shows a handwritten letter on top of which there rests an old key tied to a red ribbon.                          d placed on a handwritten page.

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


Cover shows a fairy tale hero rendered in stained-glass bright colors walking along a path.

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


Cover shows a soldier standing on cracked pavement reflected in silhouette with gray-blue skies in a puddle of water.

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.


Cover shows a woman with long hair blowing wildly.

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."


Book cover shows Blake Mycoskie seated cross-legged next to several pairs of TOMS shoes.

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."


Cover shows a white-robed figure facing away from the viewer, seated in a meditative pose against a decorative pale floral background.

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."


Cover of the book dispays the title and author names in red and black type.

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." 


Cover shows a row of four small photos of women's smiling faces against a backdrop of blue sky with white clouds.

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."

More information: the book has given rise to a movement with a four-hour PBS series shot in ten countries; see also this New York Times book review.


Close-up view of an obviously worn, leather hiking boot with red laces partially untied against a white background.

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."

More information: author's website (many photos); kickoff title for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club 2.0, which means there is a Reading Guide; and see NPR Books.


Two children run towards a palatial building in Paris with the Eiffel Tower just visible in the distance.

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."


Got ideas or opinions about a book for next year?

If you'd like to nominate a title for the 2014-2015 Freshman Common Reading, you can submit your suggestion to Cheryl Spector or to the CSUN Common Reading Blog:

Nominations are welcome from all members of the CSUN community.

How was Garbology selected?

Nominations for 2013-2014 closed on October 1, 2012. Four finalists were selected on November 2, 2012. The Selection Committee chose Garbology as the winning title on January 9, 2013.

How will we select the book for 2014-2015?

The Common Reading Selection Committee will meet in early November 2013 to choose 4-6 finalists from the list of nominated titles. The Committee will meet again during the second week of January 2014 to select the winning title for 2014-2015.

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 help choose the 2014-2015 book, please contact Cheryl Spector at x3932 or via email at before mid-October 2013. Think you're not ready? You may be right, but note that CSUN freshmen have played a crucial role in our selection process every year since 2008.

CSUN's Common Reading Archives

2012-2013: One Amazing Thing

2011-2012: The Glass Castle

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?

Find out by checking the One Book, One College list maintained by librarian Barbara Fister at Gustavus Adolphus College.