CSUN selects new book for common reading program

Every year the Freshman Common Reading program chooses a book that will bring freshman together as part of the campus community, “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls was chosen out of 13 other books for the 2011-12 selection.

“The Glass Castle” is a memoir of Walls’ unstable childhood.  She and her siblings grew-up in poverty with mentally ill parents. Having a childhood with no solid roots or an influential parent, Walls grew into a successful writer and is widely known as a gossip columnist for MSNBC.com.

“Each year, the Common Reading Selection Committee selects a different book, and interested faculty (and staff) work to design assignments and activities that make the book and its themes come alive,” said Cheryl Spector, director of the academic first year experience program.

This year’s Freshman Common Reading book is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” by Mark Haddon.  The story is about a 15-year-old-boy who describes himself as a mathematician who has behavioral difficulties. Although the book is not specific about the cause of the narrator’s behavioral difficulties, possible reasons include autism, Asperger syndrome or Savant syndrome.

Among the activities, students are given the opportunity to develop creative projects. For instance, the grand prize winner for 2010 project asked students to explore their identities and self-image by spending time in a wheelchair, without the use of one arm, or as if they were blind, in order to experience themselves in a completely different setting.

The reading program has touched students in surprising ways.  One student, who remains anonymous, was moved to write an opinion, which Spector posted on a blog.

“How I feel about “The Soloist” being chosen as the Freshman Common Reading Book. For me, this book was amazing in many ways. I feel like I didn’t only read the story of a remarkable man, but that I even was given the chance to experience some of it. Our field trip to the Disney Hall helped me see the scenes of the story and bring the story to life,” said the Fall 2009 freshman.

The criterion in choosing a book involves having a well-written book that has a broad academic discipline, one that captures individuals’ interest. The committee looks for strong themes in order to engage students in conversational debates while representing a variety of disciplines that students are involved in, whether sociology, economics, journalism or child development classes.

Among the nominated titles for 2011-12 where “Tattoos on the Heart,” “The Hungry Tides,” “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” to name a few.

Spector drew a parallel between the title of next year’s book and the university.

“It occurred to me that there is quite an interesting match between the idea of a ‘glass castle’ and our campus’s own new and beautiful Valley Performance Arts Center.,” she said.

Spector said she sees a representation of a beautiful monument to the power of the imaginative arts.

“It’s a loving memorial of one redeeming trait in Walls’ father: that ‘glass castle,’ the imaginary home he promised the children ‘someday,’ Spector added.