Does this book engage freshmen, and draw them into reading and reflection?
Does this book encourage freshmen to grow intellectually?
Does this book encourage thought and discussion in a variety of courses and contexts?
Does this book value diverse cultural perspectives?
Does this book address significant issues?
History of the Selection Criteria
In choosing the finalists for our pilot Freshman Common Reading Program in 2007, we were looking for a wonderful book that was well-written, that had broad appeal across academic disciplines and individual interests, that would bring freshmen together as part of the campus community, and that would resonate with the unique characteristics of Cal State Northridge as a particular place and site for learning. As we talked about the books and debated which title we would choose, we developed selection criteria in the form of a series of bulleted questions.
Making our final decision that year was not easy. The discussions were intense; opinions were contested; arguments raged; votes were taken and retaken; and nobody—-not one person—-was bored. In the end, we agreed that The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien met all our criteria.
When we began the process of choosing the book for 2008-2009, we reaffirmed these criteria and selected Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. In selecting The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez as our book for 2009-2010, the new committee likewise reaffirmed these criteria. We edited the list slightly to guide our selection for 2010-2011--The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time--by dividing what had been the fourth and final bullet point to give us a total of five criteria.
The revised list has guided our choice of the subsequent winning titles: The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls (2011-2012), One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni (2012-2013), Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes (2013-2014), and The Postmortal: A Novel by Drew Magary (2014-2015).
No change was made to the criteria when the selection committee chose Every Day by David Levithan as our book for 2015-2016. However, the committee voted to task a subcommittee to review the criteria and process. Their recommendation to revise criterion #5 was accepted in March 2015. OLD language: "Does this book address contemporary social issues?" NEW language: "Does this book address significant issues?”