Student Success

  • When They Call You A Terrorist book cover

    The 2021 Common Read

Common Read: Nominated Titles 2022-2023

Nominations for the 2022-2023 academic year are now closed. If you'd like to nominate a title for CSUN's 2023-2024 Freshman Common Reading, please read the selection criteria and then fill out our brief online nomination form. For more information, read about our nomination process.

The Story of More book coverThe Story of More, by Hope Jahren. 2020. 224 pages.
Nominated by Matthew Jackson

From the publisher: Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist, a brilliant writer, a passionate teacher, and one of the seven billion people with whom we share this earth. In The Story of More, she illuminates the link between human habits and our imperiled planet. In concise, highly readable chapters, she takes us through the science behind the key inventions—from electric power to large-scale farming to automobiles—that, even as they help us, release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere like never before. She explains the current and projected consequences of global warming—from superstorms to rising sea levels—and the actions that we all can take to fight back. At once an explainer on the mechanisms of global change and a lively, personal narrative given to us in Jahren’s inimitable voice, The Story of More is the essential pocket primer on climate change that will leave an indelible impact on everyone who reads it.

Jackson adds: The material is applicable to all our lives - and with the university's push toward sustainability, it goes hand in hand with efforts to reduce waster, and be more eco-friendly. Something that is in all our classes these days - not just relegated to data driven fields (aka... not just for the hard sciences). This is a great late high school/early college read. Accessible to freshmen, certainly, and only 224 pages - with short chapters. It moves quickly. I think it encourages EVERYONE to grow intellectually - there is data behind everything she writes - with suggestions as to how we can proceed to make change.

Kirkus book review

NYT book review

Hope Jahren Interview with Barbara Kingsolver (video) 

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). It is also available as an ebook from the CSUN University Library.


Darius The Great Is Not Okay book coverDarius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram. 2018. 320 pages 
Nominated by Matthew Jackson

From the publisher: Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian—half, his mom’s side—and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life. Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough—then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

Jackson adds: A biracial main character struggling with mental illness - family connectedness - culture/art/food/ friendship. Learning to be okay with oneself. Great conversations abound after reading this book. And I leaned so much about a culture I'd been very uneducated about.

Bookriot review

Kirkus Reviews

Khorram speaks at FYE 2020 (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

Klara and the Sun book coverKlara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. 2021. 320 pages
Nominated by Beth Wightman

From the publisher: The first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

Wightman adds: This book is all about what constitutes humanity and about how we judge people. Ishiguro is an amazing writer, and here, as in many of his novels, he uses first-person narration in interesting ways that invite reflection, analysis, and intellectual development. It also raises questions about how we use technology. It could be used in any number of first-year classes, from U100 and first-year writing to bio, comp sci, and psych classes. 

NPR book review

The Guardian book review

Kazuo Ishiguro talks about Klara and the Sun (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).


Know My Name book coverKnow My Name, by Chanel Miller. 2019. 367 pages.
Nominated by Susanna Eng-Ziskin

From the publisher: She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.

Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways–there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Eng-Ziskin adds: This is an incredibly moving book. Prior to this book, what we knew was that Brock Turner, a Stanford Freshman, had raped "Emily Doe", and was convicted by jury trial of three counts of felony sexual assault. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail followed by three years of probation, and Turner was released on probation after three months. Chanel's victim impact statement had also been widely released. Until this book, however, nobody knew anything about Chanel herself. She is open and honest about the event, and the long lasting effects it had on her, and describes the process of trying to get justice in her case. It is incredibly powerful, and I think all our students (regardless of sex or gender) can learn so much from it.

NPR book review

The Guardian book review

PBS interview with Miller (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). It is also available as a print book from the CSUN University Library.

Barely Missing Everything book coverBarely Missing Everything, by Matt Mendez. 2019. 320 pages
Nominated by Moshoula Capous-Desyllas.

From the Publisher: Juan has plans. He’s going to get out of El Paso, Texas, on a basketball scholarship and make something of himself—or at least find something better than his mom Fabi’s cruddy apartment, her string of loser boyfriends, and a dead dad. Basketball is going to be his ticket out, his ticket up. He just needs to make it happen. His best friend JD has plans, too. He’s going to be a filmmaker one day, like Quentin Tarantino or Guillermo del Toro (NOT Steven Spielberg). He’s got a camera and he’s got passion—what else could he need? Fabi doesn’t have a plan anymore. When you get pregnant at sixteen and have been stuck bartending to make ends meet for the past seventeen years, you realize plans don’t always pan out, and that there are some things you just can’t plan for…

Like Juan’s run-in with the police, like a sprained ankle, and a tanking math grade that will likely ruin his chance at a scholarship. Like JD causing the implosion of his family. Like letters from a man named Mando on death row. Like finding out this man could be the father your mother said was dead. Soon Juan and JD are embarking on a Thelma and Louise­—like road trip to visit Mando. Juan will finally meet his dad, JD has a perfect subject for his documentary, and Fabi is desperate to stop them. But, as we already know, there are some things you just can’t plan for…

Capous-Desyllas adds: This novel presents a powerful and gripping portrait of two Mexican-American families that conveys the experiences of what it is like to be young, Brown and poor in the United States. The lives of the two Mexican-American teenagers represent the ways in which these youth the hold on to hope and friendship in the midst of alcoholism, poverty, prejudice, and community despair.

Kirkus book review

Publisher's Weekly review

Interview with Mendez (audio)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

The Undocumented Americans book coverThe Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. 2020. 208 pages
Nominated by Susanna Eng-Ziskin 

From the publisher: Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants—and to find the hidden key to her own. Looking beyond the flashpoints of the border or the activism of the DREAMers, Cornejo Villavicencio explores the lives of the undocumented—and the mysteries of her own life. She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers. The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects.

In New York, we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited into the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami, we enter the ubiquitous botanicas, which offer medicinal herbs and potions to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, Michigan, we learn of demands for state ID in order to receive life-saving clean water. In Connecticut, Cornejo Villavicencio, childless by choice, finds family in two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.

Eng-Ziskin adds: The author herself has DACA, but wanted to focus this book on undocumented immigrants who don't have the privilege of applying to DACA. She tells the stories about those we don't usually hear about, people like her parents, who are so often exploited by the systems that are supposed to help. They may not all have inspirational stories per se, but they are all human and deserving of our respect. She intertwines her own history, while relaying the lived experiences of undocumented immigrants in the US.

The Guardian review

Kirkus review

PBS interview (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

Born A Crime book coverBorn a Crime, by Trevor Noah. 2016. 304 pages.
Nominated by Joyce Marie Brusasco

From the publisher: Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Brusasco adds: This book documents the systemic rules that are in place to keep certain populations from intermingling around the world.  Trevor was able to overcome the system of Apartheid and navigate his way in the world to shed light on the ridicules rules that keep individuals oppressed.

Los Angeles Review of Books review

Kirkus review

Trevor Noah interview with Cory Booker (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

The Body Papers book coverThe Body Papers: A Memoir, by Grace Talusan. 2019. 288 pages.
Nominated by Gretchelle Quiambao 

From the publisher: Born in the Philippines, young Grace Talusan moves with her family to a New England suburb in the 1970s. At school, she confronts racism as one of the few kids with a brown face. At home, the confusion is worse: her grandfather’s nightly visits to her room leave her hurt and terrified, and she learns to build a protective wall of silence that maps onto the larger silence practiced by her Catholic Filipino family. Talusan learns as a teenager that her family’s legal status in the country has always hung by a thread—for a time, they were “illegal.” Family, she’s told, must be put first.

The abuse and trauma Talusan suffers as a child affects all her relationships, her mental health, and her relationship with her own body. Later, she learns that her family history is threaded with violence and abuse. And she discovers another devastating family thread: cancer. In her thirties, Talusan must decide whether to undergo preventive surgeries to remove her breasts and ovaries. Despite all this, she finds love, and success as a teacher. On a fellowship, Talusan and her husband return to the Philippines, where she revisits her family’s ancestral home and tries to reclaim a lost piece of herself.

Not every family legacy is destructive. From her parents, Talusan has learned to tell stories in order to continue. The generosity of spirit and literary acuity of this debut memoir are a testament to her determination and resilience. In excavating such abuse and trauma, and supplementing her story with government documents, medical records, and family photos, Talusan gives voice to unspeakable experience, and shines a light of hope into the darkness.

Quiambao adds: This memoir is organized as thematic essays, which makes for an easy and interesting read for freshmen that allows for moments of reflection for each essay. This book covers a wide range of topics from immigration, family structures, abuse, mental health and illness thus it can be approached and discussed in class with students in many different ways. Talusan also discusses how history in both America and the Philippines continues to navigate complicated political and social issues within each country and culture. 

Nylon Magazine review 

Kirkus review

Interview with Grace Talusan (video)

The book is available as a print book and an ebook from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

They Called Us Enemy book coverThey Called Us Enemy, by George Takei. 2019. 208 pages.
Nominated by Kimberly Embleton

From the publisher: George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his magnetic performances, sharp wit, and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future. In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the terrors and small joys of childhood in the shadow of legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s tested faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins cowriters Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

Embleton adds: This book is engaging and a quick read, but benefits from a second read. That it is written by a someone famous is also a draw (come on, we work at Star Fleet Academy!). I did not know that Mr. Takei is a Los Angeles native, so the locale is also relevant.  It will encourage readers to grow intellectually with its first hand account and a different perspective on Japanese Internment. A child's perspective. It is a good history lesson that resonates and is relevant today. I think this book would work well for so many different classes: Art and the new Popular Culture minor, History, Asian American Studies, Political Science, Child and Adolescent Development among others. By nature of its subject matter it values and shines light on different cultural perspectives. It absolutely addresses many significant issues that are of continuing discussion today, especially race, ethnicity, and immigration.

Washington Post review

Kirkus review

PBS interview with George Takei (video)

The book is available as a print book and an ebook from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). Also available as a print book from CSUN University Library.


Being Heumann book coverBeing Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, by Judith Heumann. 2020. 232 pages.
Nominated by Jamie Johnson

From the publisher: A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society.

Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy’s struggle for equality began early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a “fire hazard” to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, Judy’s actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people.

As a young woman, Judy rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a leader of the Section 504 Sit-In, the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Working with a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies, Judy successfully pressured the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled peoples’ rights, sparking a national movement and leading to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Johnson addsBeing Heumann is a memoir centered around human rights, civil rights, disability rights, and the history of the disability rights movement. Judith Heumann provides a personal perspective of what life was like for people with disabilities before section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act were passed and the struggles and work it took to get them passed. 

Rooted in Rights review

Kirkus review

Interview on The Daily Show (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). Also available as an ebook from CSUN University Library.


When the Emperor was Divine book coverWhen The Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. 2002. 160 pages.
Nominated by Susanna Eng-Ziskin

From the publisher: On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family’s possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert. 

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today’s headlines.

Eng-Ziskin adds: Written from the perspective of a mother, her daughter, her son, and finally her husband in a brief coda, this is a brief story of a Japanese American family placed into an internment camp in 1942. It is haunting and details are spare, yet the book does an amazing job of describing this family's experience in an internment camp, how they ended up there, and the toll it took on them. Students reading it can use this as a jumping off point for learning more about internment camps in the second world war, including a temporary detention facility here in Los Angeles. Students can also use it to make connections with immigrant detention facilities today.

New York Times book review

Publisher's Weekly review 

Interview with Julie Otsuka (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). Also available as a print book from CSUN University Library.


Dear America book coverDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, by Jose Antonio Vargas. 2018. 256 pages.
Nominated by Pepper Starobin

From the publisher: "This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book––at its core––is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense, but in the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in. This book is about lying and being forced to lie to get by; about passing as an American and as a contributing citizen; about families, keeping them together, and having to make new ones when you can’t. This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves. This book is about what it means to not have a home. After 25 years of living illegally in a country that does not consider me one of its own, this book is the closest thing I have to freedom." (Jose Antonio Vargas)

Starobin adds: Vargas' candid, courageous, and introspective memoir is engaging and emotional. His tenacity to overcome the odds - which are stacked against him - are inspirational and admirable.

Los Angeles Review of Books review

The Atlantic review

Interview with Jose Antonio Vargas (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). 

Disability Visibility book coverDisability Visibility, by Alice Wong. 2020. 336 pages.
Nominated by Susanna Eng-Ziskin and Kate Gurewitz

From the publisher:  One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Now, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people.

From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of her debate with Peter Singer over her own personhood to original pieces by authors like Keah Brown and Haben Girma; from blog posts, manifestos, and eulogies to Congressional testimonies, and beyond: this anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now. It looks to the future and the past with hope and love.

Alice Wong is a disabled activist, media maker, and research consultant based in San Francisco, California. She is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. Alice is also the host and co-producer of the Disability Visibility podcast and co-partner in a number of collaborations such as #CripTheVote and Access Is Love. From 2013 to 2015, Alice served as a member of the National Council on Disability, an appointment by President Barack Obama.

Eng-Ziskin adds: This is an important read about peoples' experiences with disabilities, written by people with disabilities. It's a collection of essays written by people with various backgrounds and disabilities, and includes contributors who are people of color, queer, trans, and non-binary, which is important as so often the face of disability is white and male. The anthology includes essays about a deaf man's experience in prison, without access to interpreters; an indigenous person with chronic illness; a doctor who became a patient when they are diagnosed with cancer and suffer a stroke; black disabled joy; and parenting with a disability, among others. The essays are easy to read, and because it covers such a wide range of experiences, can be applicable across a variety of courses.

Gurewitz adds: I haven't seen any other books on this topic, and the fact that CSUN has large demographic of hearing-impaired students makes it even more suitable. 

Columbia Journal review

Kirkus review

Interview with Alice Wong (audio)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). 

Girl Woman Other book coverGirl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo. 2019. 464 pages.
Nominated by Maya Bornstein

From the publisher: Bernardine Evaristo is the winner of the 2019 Booker Prize and the first black woman to receive this highest literary honor in the English language. Girl, Woman, Other is a magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of an interconnected group of Black British women that paints a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain and looks back to the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean.

The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.

Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative fast-moving form that borrows technique from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that shows a side of Britain we rarely see, one that reminds us of all that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.

Bornstein adds: The text is adept at challenging readers' assumptions about human archetypes, complicating the idea of identity as being inherently tied to markers like race, gender, sexuality, age, etc. The style also pushes the boundaries of what fiction can do, opening freshmen readers up to the endless possibilities of language and composition. While she undertakes a broad scope of the contemporary human condition, Evaristo is able to focus simultaneously on the micro and the macro, leaving space for students to relate to each character's internal life no matter how they may differ on the surface. In the classroom, this text provides perfect fodder for discussions around race, gender studies, education, immigration, social media, human relationships, communication, and a myriad of other sub-themes.

The Guardian review

Kirkus review

Interview with Bernardine Evaristo (video)

The book is available as a print book, an ebook, and an audio book from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).