Curriculum Vitae Season 2: Beach Books

Peter Wood

Welcome back to our podcast, Curriculum Vitae, now returning from summer break! We’re not quite ready to leave summer, though, because in this episode, Peter Wood and David Randall sit down to discuss “beach books,” the books colleges assign students to read over the summer.

What do colleges and universities assign as summer reading? How can NAS members convince their college or university to choose a better book? You can read the entire Beach Books report—released today—online here. In this episode, David gives some highlights.

Show Notes

0:00 Peter introduces David Randall and the Beach Books project.

2:55 What is the typical college common reading assignment like?

6:12 Many college students, incredibly, have never read an entire book before. If colleges are determined to assign something easy, David has some easy-reading classics to consider.

10:15 What is the single most popular beach book assignment?

21:15 Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, is also a contributor to the New York Times’ 1619 Project. Peter and David discuss the 1619 Project and how closely it relates to college common reading assignments.

22:34 David and Peter get side-tracked on whether 1619 is even the correct date for the introduction of slaves to America.

26:04 NAS is launching our own 1620 Project. Why, and what are we doing?

33:53 Colleges have abolished the core curriculum – so the common reading assignment is the only book all students will read together.

38:07 A few years ago Peter looked up the “Lexile” reading level scores for beach books. Just Mercy is written at a ninth-grade reading level—and was actually one of the highest scoring books Peter examined.

41:05 Peter and David discuss the litany of great books exploring the themes of unjust punishment. Does Just Mercy deserve a spot in that line-up?

43:35 We’re on a mission to improve the books colleges choose. David gives practical advice for how to get on the common reading selection committee, and how to advocate for a better books.

53:00 Frankenstein is one of the few classics that gets regularly selected as a common reading. Why?

55:20 Peter accuses David of “trying to squeeze some optimism” out of college common readings – but it is true that (marginally) more colleges are assigning classic books.

58:28 What’s David’s personal selection for a beach book?


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