I was very excited about college from an intellectual perspective. I eagerly anticipated a whole new level of learning, and I did find that, but only infrequently on a class-by-class basis, not across the board as I had hoped. I was so keyed up about college I read most of the suggested reading list the school sent incoming frosh the summer before we arrived. The list came in the form of a booklet. Each page of the booklet had a professor’s picture along with a blurb about the book the professor recommended. There were only 4-5 book recommendations total and I remember three:
1. The Arrow in the Blue by Arthur Koestler.Â An autobiography by a European writer and politico spanning the first part of his life and the early 20th century, this is the one that sounded the most interesting to me.Â But for that reason, it’s the one I didn’t read. I figured reading the other ones would be good for me.
2. Blood, Bread, and Poetry by Adrienne Rich. This is a great book to have incoming frosh to read if you want to perpetuate the stereotype of the man-hating militant lesbian. And as I remember, it was poorly written and poorly argued. I should have seen this book’s inclusion in the recommended reading as the red flag it was. I was about to enter the leftist birthing chamber of Political Correctness where lovers of this book and its ethos were the lunatics in charge of the asylum. (More on that another time!)
3. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings. This book was exactly what I had hoped it would be, an interesting book on a subject I knew very little about, women’s rights in America from the perspective of black women. I think I underlined something on every page. (I was an out-of-control underliner/highlighter for many years.) This book also taught me about discrimination within minority groups — here was an entire class of people that was discriminated against by all men, black and white, and was also discriminated against by whites. It was eye-opening in the same way Spike Lee’s School Daze was eye-opening. (That movie in part addresses discrimination among blacks based on lightness of skin color.) I had done the perhaps typical white boy delving into Richard Wright and the black experience but that was mostly focused on black men. By the way, Richard Wright is really just another Holden Caulfield, isn’t he? Is he a popular writer because he represents the black experience or because he’s an outsider and we all go through our outsider phase? Or do we love him twice as much as an outsider because he is black? Anyway, this was a good book.
Each dorm also had a recommended book. My dorm’s book was The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. I loved this book! It was a story of immense human suffering but also showed the power of the human spirit, the will to survive. Before college, I had spent a couple weeks visiting my brother in Senegal where he was in the Peace Corps. I had also spent some time in Juarez, Mexico on a youth work trip with my church. The City of Joy went a long way to helping me make sense of what I had seen in Senegal and Juarez. I think The City of Joy was one of the top five most influential books of my college career, maybe even my life.
So those are the books Stanford thought would best prepare me for the late 20th century college experience. My Dad’s bookshelf still holds a copy of The Arrow in the Blue. One of these days I’ll read it. What books would you have incoming frosh read today?