Alternatives Suggested for Common Reading Groups
September 20, 2010

The National Association of Scholars in June released a report criticizing the selections colleges make for common reading assignments for freshmen, charging that colleges favor the multicultural and politically correct over the timeless ideals that have helped to build Western civilization. Many academics criticized the association's critique, saying that it oversimplified the book selections and didn't reflect the actual goals behind these reading programs. For instance, many colleges said that the association was correct in identifying a preference for living authors -- and that colleges leaned that way because they saw value in inviting those authors to campus to meet students. On Friday, the association released a list of 37 of its suggestions for books that would be good to use for common reading programs for freshmen. Dead white men do dominate the list -- with William Shakespeare getting three slots (for Julius Caesar, Richard III and Henry V). The association also recommends Augustine's Confessions, James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, and Voltaire's Candide, not to mention classics by the likes of Plato and Plutarch. But those expecting only works by dead white men may be surprised to find books by a living white man (Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff); a living African author (Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart); a dead white woman (Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop); and authors who are very much a part of the African-American and American canons (Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God).

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