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About the Common Reading Initiative

The Common Reading Initiative is designed to introduce new students to the academic and intellectual culture of the college through a shared reading. It kicks off during Summer Orientation, when members of the incoming class of students receive a copy of the chosen (“common”) book — selected by a committee of NVU faculty, staff, and students during the prior academic year — to read and think about before returning to campus for Fall Orientation and the start of classes.

During Fall Orientation, you’ll meet in small groups with other incoming students and a faculty or staff facilitator to discuss some aspect of what you read. This not only gives you a chance to learn what others have gotten from the book, it gives you a first taste of college-level discussions of literary ideas and themes.

The Common Reading Initiative goes well beyond one session during Orientation, however. Throughout the semester, you’ll have many opportunities to share and compare ideas about the common book. Many of the guest lectures, special discussions, exhibits, films, and concerts that take place during the fall are specifically chosen to complement the book. In addition, your peer Orientation leaders, along with many faculty and staff, will have read the book, so don’t be surprised if it comes up again in one or more of your classes.

2019-20 Common Book: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Cover of 57 Bus

Long Way Down is a novel written in free verse that tells a complex story over the span of only one minute and seven seconds.  The book explores the impact of gun violence on the lives of young people including the cycle of trauma, anger, and loss that this violence creates. At the start of the novel, the main character, Will, grapples with the murder of his brother Shawn. The book unfolds from there, as Will faces the choice of how to respond in a world that seems to limit his options.

Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors.

2018-19 Common Book: 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

Cover of 57 Bus

57 Bus starts with the recounting of a fateful moment on November 4, 2013 in Oakland, California. That afternoon, the paths of two teenagers–Sasha Fleischman and Richard Thomas– crossed on one of Oakland’s city buses. Sasha, a white, middle-class, agender (identifies as neither male nor female) student was traveling home from their (Sasha’s preferred pronoun) small, private high school.  Richard, a black student from a large public school who lived in a crime-plagued neighborhood was also making the journey home.  And, as their lives intersected on that bus, Richard made the choice to set fire to Sasha’s skirt. 57 Bus unfolds from there, diving deeply into the backgrounds of both students as well as the way their friends, family, the broader community and the criminal justice system responded to the event.

Dashka Slater is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones among other publications

Download the 2018 Common Book Guide (pdf).

Previous Common Readings

2017 Book: How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

How to Be Black is a satirical account of the dynamics of race in the United States, told through the lens of author Baratunde Thurston’s personal story. By interweaving autobiography and the perspectives of a “panel of guests” in the book, Thurston uses humor to relay the complexities, absurdities and consequences of the way race is constructed in our culture.

2016 Book: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger

Tribe examines the way war creates intimate bonds between people. Through times of adversity, humans are given a sense of purpose and connection. These experiences create collectives that depend on one another, ultimately connecting with our inherent nature as a communal species. To this point, Junger explores the relationship between combat veterans returning home and higher rates of post- traumatic stress disorders, as they search for the closeness and unity in everyday society. Tribe explores themes of loyalty, belonging, and the human quest for finding meaning in life. This book introduces elements of tribal societies for the purpose of helping us consider ways of creating communities that thrive not from catastrophe or war, but from peace and the act of coming together in purpose.

2015 Book: The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun

The Promise of a Pencil is Braun’s first-person account of his journey from high-powered Wall Street consultant to founder of the non-profit Pencils of Promise (PoP), an organization he started with just $25 that has now built over 200 schools in developing countries.

2014 Book: A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure

The book follows the author as she attempts to become the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. In vivid, often jarring, detail the book charts McClure’s treacherous crossing during one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. This is a book of not only hard work, sweat, and tears, but also of sacrifice, risk, and perseverance, as McClure sets herself the task of rowing a 2,800 pound boat across 3,600 miles of open ocean.   This is not simply a book about physical challenge or determination, however. She is also well-versed in the science of tides and weather, the art and mechanics of boat building, and survival skills. And, McClure is an intellectual who derives strength from history and literature. Alone and vulnerable in the middle of the Atlantic, McClure travels the path of self-inquiry, relying on these disciplines to get through and make meaning of the three solitary months she spends on the water.

2013 Book: Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

LeDuff’s book touches on a wide range of pertinent topics: the American and global economy; class in America and the recession; the role of government, the press, and the citizenry in American democracy; and community building and urban renewal, among others. Once a thriving metropolis — a true leader in the nation for production, wealth, and opportunity — Detroit is now the nation’s poorest city, leading the nation in unemployment, arson and other social ills. As a Detroit native and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, LeDuff tells the tale of the city’s decline, getting up close and personal with his subject.

2012 Common  Book: 420 Characters by Lou Beach

Within this collection of miniature stories, entire worlds take shape… Beach’s characters contend with the strange and terrible and beautiful in life, and no outcome is certain. Begun as a series of Facebook status updates, 420 Characters marks a new turn in an acclaimed artist and illustrator’s career, and features original collages by the author.

2011 Common Book: Greasy Rider: Two dudes, one fry-oil-powered car, and a cross-country search for a greener future by Greg Melville

Is it possible to drive coast-to-coast without stopping at a single gas pump? Journalist Greg Melville is determined to try. With his college buddy Iggy riding shotgun, he sets out on an enlightening road trip. The quest: to be the first people to drive cross-country in a french-fry car. Will they make it from Vermont to California in a beat-up 1985 Mercedes diesel station wagon powered on vegetable oil collected from restaurant grease dumpsters along the way? Their trip takes them to the solar-powered Google headquarters; the wind turbines of southwestern Minnesota; one of the first houses to receive platinum certification for leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED); and a so-called “eco-friendly” Wal-Mart. Part adventure and part investigation of what we’re doing (or not doing) to preserve the planet, Greasy Rider is upbeat, funny, and full of surprising information about the many sustainable measures that are within our reach.

2010 Common Book: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

The book chronicles a refugee soccer team, a remarkable woman coach and a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement. In the 1990s, that town, Clarkston, Georgia, became a resettlement center for refugees and a modern-day Ellis Island for scores of families from war zones in Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to help keep Clarkston’s boys off the streets. These boys named themselves the Fugees — short for refugees.

Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees, their families and their charismatic coach as they struggle to build new lives in a fading town overwhelmed by change. Theirs is a story about resilience in the face of extraordinary hardship, the power of one person to make a difference and the daunting challenge of creating community in a place where people seem to have so little in common.

2009 Common Book: How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi.

The book weaves together the stories of seven young Arab American men and women who live in Brooklyn. In its review of the book, *Publisher’s Weekly* writes: “..for most of its history, American society has paid little attention to its Arab and Muslim citizens — until the events of September 11 thrust millions of uninvolved people into a very unfavorable limelight, often forcing them to answer for the monstrous deeds of others. The author profiles seven young people for whom that day’s horrors were not just a shared national tragedy but the beginning of a struggle to define themselves, as they began to face pervasive workplace discrimination and government surveillance, cultural misunderstanding and threats of violence. In many ways, his absorbing and affectionate book is a quintessentially American picture of 21st-century citizens ‘absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them].'”

2008 Common Book: 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose

Chris Rose’s chronicle of post-Katrina New Orleans freeze-frames New Orleans — a city caught during its most desperate time — as it struggles out of the floodwaters and wills itself back to life. In commenting on the book, one reviewer wrote: “Celebrated as a local treasure and heaped with national praise, Rose provides a rollercoaster ride of observation, commentary, emotion, tragedy and even humor — in a way that only he could find in a devastated wasteland. They are stories of the dead and the living, stories of survivors and believers, stories of hope and despair. And stories about refrigerators.”

2007 Common Book: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone is Beah’s first-hand account of being pressed into service as a child soldier in the war-torn country of Sierra Leone. His story of a childhood lost and an adulthood found is an inspiring journey from heartbreaking tragedy to hope and redemption.