Academic First Year Experiences

  • CommonRead 2014 Banner Students Holding Postmortal

Selection Criteria

  1. Does this book engage freshmen, and draw them into reading and reflection?

  2. Does this book encourage freshmen to grow intellectually?

  3. Does this book encourage thought and discussion in a variety of courses and contexts?

  4. Does this book value diverse cultural perspectives?

  5. Does this book address contemporary social 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).

If you would like to nominate a title for the 2015-2016 Freshman Common Reading Program at Cal State Northridge, please review the criteria to determine whether your suggestion is likely to be a good fit for our program. Send your suggestion to Cheryl Spector (cheryl.spector@csun.edu), providing both title and author. You may also wish to submit a brief post to our Common Reading Blog in which you explain why you think your book would be a good choice. Pithy posts typically work best. Please include your name as part of your post.