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Last Book Standing

Every year, the entire incoming freshman class is required to read the same book.  Books of recent years include Half the Sky, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, No Impact Man, and G-dog and the Homeboys.  They deal with topics such as women’s rights, stem cell research, eco-friendly living, and gangs.  This year, the required reading book was The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.  It is the story of a young Pakistani man’s life before and after the events of September 11th.  The one distinct difference between this year’s book and the books Rollins has chosen in the last decade is that it is a work of fiction.  So, how was this book chosen?

A small committee composed of faculty from different departments as well as current Rollins students began the process of choosing the required reading book in the winter of 2012.  They started with a list of around ten books, including Behind the Beautiful Forevers and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  This list of books was chosen because of recommendations from the committee members and research on the books that other colleges with similar reading programs have required recently.   The Reluctant Fundamentalist was originally recommended by Dr. Aggarwal, who has taught the book for almost three years.

The massive amount of reading was divided: the committee members were allowed to sign up for which books they wanted to read.  After reading the proposed books, the committee reconvened.  Some books were eliminated and others supported, and the committee narrowed down the list to what they considered to be the three best candidates.  These three books had several things in common.  They all contained a young, approximately college-aged protagonist to whom incoming first-years could easily relate.  Each book dealt with topical issues and would spark debate and conversation.   The committee also chose books that would appeal to many different RCC’s.  While most RCC’s do not focus their curriculum on the summer reading book, it was important to the committee that the books be accessible enough to tie into any RCC that wanted to use it.

The three finalists were then given to the members of the RCC faculty, over thirty people, in the spring of 2013. They read the books and then voted on which one they thought would be the best for the incoming freshman to read.  By majority, the professors choose The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This book was particularly appealing because it promotes discussion.  Certain scenes in the book, such as the protagonist’s controversial reaction to the September 11th attacks and the ambiguous ending generally produce strong emotions in students.  The book was officially chosen in April, and the students received their assignments over the summer.

What seems like a simple decision to most, is actually a complicated process, that includes two committees who collaborate and commit a great deal of time and effort to ensure that the book chosen is interesting and engaging for students.

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