Six Finalists Chosen For UM’s Common Reading Experience

Committee will read each book and recommend a title for use next fall

common reading experience logoOXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Common Reading Experience selection group has narrowed its list to six books, with one to be selected for campuswide reading and discussion in 2017.

All incoming freshmen and transfer students will get copies of the selected book, which will be announced in February, with instructions to read it before the fall semester begins. The text will be used during classes for discussion, and faculty and staff are also encouraged to read the book in an effort to enrich the sense of community.

Kirk A. Johnson, associate professor of sociology and African-American studies and co-chair of the Common Reading Experience selection subcommittee, said the list is strong. 

“I can’t remember a more diverse short list,” Johnson said. “The locales range from North Korea to small-town Mississippi.

“There’s a memoir by a lawyer who’s trying to fix our criminal justice system, and a biography of a billionaire inventor who wants to help save humanity by colonizing Mars. And there are two books about the effects of social media. No matter what your interests are, there’s something here for everyone.”

Faculty, staff and students, as well as alumni and residents of the greater Oxford community, were invited to nominate a suggested title this fall. The committee chose from books that were ideally less than 400 pages, available in paperback, written by a living author and published within the last five years, all to ensure the book is accessible to both students and readers in the community.

The books chosen as finalist for the 2017 Common Reading Experience are: 

– “Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta” by Richard Grant. An adventure writer moves with his girlfriend from New York City to a plantation in the Mississippi Delta on a whim. Grant writes about his journey of discovery there. 

– “The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story” by Hyeonseo Lee. The book tells the story of a woman’s struggle to guide her family to freedom and avoiding being sent back to North Korea and its ruthless dictatorship. 

– “A Deadly Wandering: A Mystery, a Landmark Investigation, and the Astonishing Science of Attention in the Digital Age” by Matt Richtel. A New York Times reporter uses the example of a tragic texting-and-driving car crash that killed two rocket scientists in 2006 to explore technology’s vast influence on the human mind and society.

– “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson. The author travels the world meeting people who were publicly shamed in high-profile cases. He explores the stories of those who made jokes on social media that came out badly, or made mistakes at work to explore shame, one of the world’s most powerful, yet often underestimated forces. 

– “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and others. The book tells his story about the redemptive power of mercy and serves as Stevenson’s call to fix the justice system.

– “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance. A veteran technology journalist gives an inside look into the life of one of Silicon Valley’s best-known entrepreneurs, Elon Musk.

The 2016 Common Reading Experience selection was “Ten Little Indians,” written by Sherman Alexie. Previous selections were “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (2011), “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by UM professor Tom Franklin (2012), “The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education” by Craig Mullaney (2013), “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan (2014) and “The Education of a Lifetime” (2015), a memoir by UM Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat. 

Each committee member will read each book on the short list, said Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and committee co-chair. They will meet again in late January to discuss the merits of each book and rank the titles by their preference. 

The top-ranked title is recommended to the UM Common Read Experience committee, which is chaired by Bob Cummings, director of the university’s Center for Writing and Rhetoric. The Common Reading Experience committee makes the final recommendation to the provost.

The book recommended by the selection committee has been the one used as the common read each year so far, she said. 

“It is as varied and eclectic list as we have had, and I am eager to read each book between now and the end of January,” Banahan said.