[with thanks to Jenn Reade for the reminder]
Over the last few years, university and colleges in several Canadian, American, and UK communities have instituted campus-wide read-alongs (sometimes known as “Common Reading Programs”). Students, faculty, staff and administration are all encouraged to read the same particular book before the semester begins, and then there are book club type opportunities for people to get together and discuss what they’ve read. Sometimes it is fiction and sometimes it is non-fiction; memoirs in particular seem to be popular. The books are often chosen to complement a particular theme the institution wants to emphasize for that academic year. Often the program is targeted to first-year students as part of their orientation. Sometimes the wider community is encouraged to join as well. Some institutions have been able to get the book’s author to give a talk at the campus as part of the program. The program at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) cites its intended purpose as “provid[ing] a shared experience for our community. Through reading the same book community members will have the opportunity to engage in dialogue and explore various themes. Through lectures, book discussion groups and many other activities we will learn about ourselves and others while experiencing a unique sense of community.”
Report: “Common Reading Programs in Higher Education” by Andi Twiton (2007).
Articles and links to recent/current Common Reading programs:
One Book, One UFV (University of the Fraser Valley, BC)
The Chronicle of Higher Education article about Wofford College’s The Novel Experience
Inside Higher Ed summary of MLA Panel on first-year common reading programs
Queen’s University First-Year Book Club: “Adjusting to a new academic and social environment can be a nerve-wracking experience for many first year students, and building a sense of community through Orientation programs can help a lot with this transition,” says Megan Stanley (Artsci’12), who is helping plan the program. “Using neutral yet substantive ground such as Charlotte Gill’s memoir [Eating Dirt] as a starting point for discussion and debate may help students to feel more comfortable interacting and building relationships with others, which is particularly important during the first week of university.”
It would be worthwhile to explore this type of program for CNC; it could be a good tool for retaining students and creating a sense of community and cohesion between different departments and academic schools. I actually think Eating Dirt might be a good one for CNC. One Book, One CNC: has a nice ring to it, no?