Common Reading Experience - Previous Selections

Previous Common Reading Experience selections

book cover Crazy Brave2017 - 2018

Crazy Brave
by Joy Harjo

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a haunting, visionary memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice.

2016 - 2017

Apocalyptic Planet
by Craig Childs

"Ruminating on our distant past and present changes, [Childs] blends climate science, natural history, literary references, and personal reflections to create an immensely evocative sense of time and place. From Greenland’s glaciers to a blistering hot Iowa cornfield (a place Childs characterizes as suffering from "genetic exhaustion"), he immerses himself in parts of our world that scientists endlessly study but we willfully ignore. He consults great minds, cajoles friends into sharing his adventures (with often hilarious results), and brings his mother along in an attempt to gather clues and form conclusions about the end of the world as we know it. Surprisingly, this is not a work of darkest sorrow but rather an engaging exploration of the land beneath us and the sixth mass extinction that scientists agree is underway." – Booklist

book cover Thinking in Pictures2015 - 2016

Thinking in Pictures
by Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States. She also lectures widely on autism–because Temple Grandin is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to many of the rest of us. Here, in Temple Grandin’s own words, is the story of what it is like to live with autism, to be among the few people who have broken through many of the neurological impairments associated with autism. Throughout her life, she has developed unique coping strategies, including her famous “squeeze machine,” which she modeled after seeing the calming effect of squeeze chutes on cattle. She describes her painful isolation growing up “different” and her discovery of visual symbols to interpret the “ways of the natives.” 

Dead Man Walking book cover2014 - 2015

Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty that Sparked a National Debate
by Sister Helen Prejean

For the Fall 2014 semester, the Common Reading Experience book selection is Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty that Sparked a National Debate, by Sister Helen Prejean.

In her book, Sr. Helen, a Roman Catholic nun, describes what it looks and feels like to walk a man on Death Row to his execution. As spiritual advisor to several men convicted of vicious crimes, Sr. Helen comes to know them well. She is horrified by their crimes; she is horrified that they themselves will be killed. But she accompanies these men to their death so they will not be alone. Equally important for Sr. Helen, is to be sure the victims’ families are not alone. She founded SURVIVE a support group to help each family survive its unimaginable grief.

2013 - 2014

Full Body Burden
by Kristen Iversen

"Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated “the most contaminated site in America.” It’s the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and—unknown to those who lived there—tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium."
(source: KristenIversen.com)

The Heart and the Fist book cover2012 - 2013

The Heart and the Fist
by Eric Greitens

THE HEART AND THE FIST shares one man’s story of extraordinary leadership and service as both a humanitarian and a warrior. In a life lived at the raw edges of the human experience, Greitens has seen what can be accomplished when compassion and courage come together in meaningful service. As a Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL, Greitens worked alongside volunteers who taught art to street children in Bolivia and led US Marines who hunted terrorists in Iraq… He excelled at the hardest military training in the world, and today he works with severely wounded and disabled veterans who are rebuilding their lives as community leaders at home. Greitens offers each of us a new way of thinking about living a meaningful life. We learn that to win any war, even those we wage against ourselves, requires us to be both good and strong. -Goodreads

Outcast United book cover2011 - 2012

Outcast United
by Warren St. John

Outcasts United is the story of a refugee soccer team, a remarkable woman coach and a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement. It's a tale about resilience, the power of one person to make a difference and the daunting challenge of creating community in a place where people seem to have little in common.

Enrique2010 - 2011

Enrique's Journey
Sonia Nazario

In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States.

The Beast in the Garden bookcover2009 - 2010

The Beast in the Garden: The True Story of a Predator's Deadly Return to Suburban America
by David Baron

When residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly began to see mountain lions in their backyards, it became clear that the cats had returned after decades of bounty hunting had driven them far from human settlement. In a riveting environmental tale that has received huge national attention, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles one town's tragic effort to coexist with its new neighbors. As thought-provoking as it is harrowing, The Beast in the Garden is a tale of nature corrupted, the clash between civilization and wildness, and the artificiality of the modern American landscape. It is, ultimately, a book about the future of our nation, where suburban sprawl and wildlife-protection laws are pushing people and wild animals into uncomfortable, sometimes deadly proximity.

Three Cups of Tea bookcover2008 - 2009

Three Cups of Tea: One man's mission to promote peace -- one school at a time
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

In THREE CUPS OF TEA: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson, and acclaimed journalist David Oliver Relin, recount the unlikely journey that led Mortenson from a failed attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully building schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mountains Beyond Mountains book cover2007 - 2008

Mountains Beyond Mountains
by Tracy Kidder

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”—as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

Foldling Paper Cranes book cover2006 - 2007

Folding Paper Cranes
by Leonard Bird

Between 1951 and 1962 the Atomic Energy Commission triggered some one hundred atmospheric detonations of nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site. U.S. military troops who participated in these tests were exposed to high doses of radiation. Among them was a young Marine named Leonard Bird. In Folding Paper Cranes Bird juxtaposes his devastating experience of those atomic exercises with three visits over his lifetime—one in the 1950s before his Nevada assignment, one in 1981, and one in the early 1990s—to the International Park for World Peace in Hiroshima. Among the monuments to tragedy and hope in Hiroshima’s Peace Park stands a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a crane in her outstretched arms. According to popular Japanese belief, folding a thousand paper cranes brings good fortune. Sadako spent the last months of her young life folding hundreds of paper cranes. She folded 644 before she died. As he journeys from the Geiger counters, radioactive dust, and mushroom clouds of the Nevada desert to the bronze and ivory memorials for the dead in Japan, Bird—himself a survivor of radiation-induced cancer—seeks to make peace with his past and with a future shadowed by nuclear proliferation. His paper cranes are the poetry and prose of this haunting memoir.