Common Reading Selections

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Common Reading Selections

Past Common Reading at Rowan Selections

The following books were used as University-wide common reading selections: 

2017: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction 

The 2017-2018 book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a powerful account of humans’ role in the accelerating extinction of species in the modern era. Although mass extinctions are not new (in fact, there were 5 previously), the role of one dominant species – humans – in changing the course of evolution and existence for other species is unprecedented. Selected for the 2015 Pulitzer prize in nonfiction and one of New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year, The Sixth Extinction is a lively and engaging exploration of the Earth’s biodiversity and the implications of humans’ role in its reduction. Importantly, we learn it is not too late to change direction for the betterment of all of Earth’s inhabitants.

Rowan celebrates a long history of concern for the environment on campus, as well as exciting new developments including the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University and the founding of the School of Earth and Environment.  However, The Sixth Extinction is a book that can be examined from many academic and social perspectives, including social and environmental justice, economics and political science, psychology and sociology, even medicine and public health due to changes in humans’ ecosystems. This book is also a great introduction to explore the STEP UP concept of Preserving Resources. While the book addresses happenings back to the beginning of time, it is a very timely selection for the Rowan community.

A number of events related to the book included:

  • Elizabeth Kolbert Author Visit
  • "Sea of Vulnerability" exhibition by international artist, biologist, and environmental educatior Brandon Ballengee at Rowan University's Art Gallery
  • Meditation Walk of Geologic Time
  • Homecoming Week Fossil Find at the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park
  • Bike-In/Walk-In Movie - Racing Extinction
  • Live Q&A with Al Gore and a film screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

2016: Americanah


The 2016-2017 book, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was the first novel selected for the R U Reading Together program and was passionately endorsed by the students on our selection committee. Americanah received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year, Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick. Americanah chronicles the stories of high school sweethearts in Nigeria who, in the face of military dictatorship, emigrate to the United States and London, where they encounter a new conception of race as well as discrimination and xenophobia. From the opening scenes in a Trenton hair braiding salon, you will encounter mind-opening characters and themes of racism, socioeconomic inequality among individuals and among nations, and the power of context to shape identity and perception of others. A beautifully written exploration of themes we encounter daily - identity, race, immigration, relative privilege, social and economic justice — this book provided abundant fodder for the Rowan community's exploration of these themes in the 2016-2017 academic year.

2015: Garbology


The 2015-2016 book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, challenged us to think about humans’ impact on the environment. People in many cultures - especially the United States - produce enormous amounts of trash; the health of our oceans, lands, and communities are suffering. Where does your disposable cup from your morning coffee go? What about those plastic grocery bags that catch on tree limbs and float in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Edward Humes gave a "trash talk" to the campus communit on Monday, October 5, 2015.

2014: This I Believe II

This I Believe

Rowan's 3rd annual RU Reading-Together common reading program selection was This I Believe II, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman. This collection of personal essays reveals the diversity of content and origin of people's belief systems and values. Stemming from a feature on National Public Radio first founded in the 1950's and revived in 2005, this recent collection contains illuminating and often surprising representations of how both ordinary and not-so-ordinary people view the world. In 500 words or less, the essays demonstrate how people view their own and the larger world, in observations both small and paradigm-shifting. The richness of individuals' experiences are revealed in both entertaining and thought-provoking ways.

This I Believe II provided an ideal platform to explore meaning in that readers encountered wide-ranging issues including both formal religious and idiosyncratic personal philosophies, and the impact of both systemic and culturally-based life experiences as well as apparently random events. Dan Gediman visited Rowan on October 6, 2014 at 11 am for a public lecture at the Enyon Ballroom in the Chamberlain Student Center. 

2013: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

The book selected for 2013-2014 was Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. This book shares the lives and experiences of the residents of a slum, Annawadi, near developing Mumbai, India. Although a word away, faculty, staff, and students saw and related to the rich characters, humanity, and tragedy of Annawadi that Boo presents in this engaging book. Rich community discussions of the issues of economics, environmental studies, poverty, access to education, sociology, and social justice were explored through this nonfiction narrative.

2012: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe inaugural R U Reading Together selection was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Intrigued by a casual remark in an introductory biology course at a community college, the author relentlessly tracked down information about Henrietta Lacks, her family, and her cells, which have traveled around the globe and even into space. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American farmer in 1951 when she developed terminal cancer. Her doctors took some of her cells without her consent. Those cells, which remain alive today, have led to amazing medical discoveries but also to much confusion and dismay for her family as well as to serious questions about ethics. Themes of science, business, journalism, racism, sexism, social justice and more emanate from a compelling narrative that is hard to put down. The resulting book provides a platform to explore and debate moral and ethical issues surrounding medical research, informed consent, legal practices relating to privacy and the ownership of biological materials, racism, sexism, social justice, and the practice of journalism.

Discussions & Reading Groups

Dr. Deb Martin sponsored a faculty/staff book discussion group out of the Faculty Center, and the Offices of Orientation & Student Leadership Programs and Academic Transition Programs sponsored book discussion groups for the new students during move-in weekend. Each student discussion group was co-facilitated with a faculty or staff member and a continuing student peer leader from Writing Arts, Peer Referral & Orientation Staff, Resident Advisors, or the Honors Program.

See the Rowan new release about this program...

Supplemental Events

Additionally, many faculty integrated The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in their fall term courses and several topical lectures and panel discussions were held, including:

  • The Undiagnosed Impact of Masculine Pathology in Henrietta Lacks
  • Ethics in Medicine
  • RU Reading Together Family Weekend Dessert Conversation
  • Bioethics
  • Lessons Learned from Henrietta Lacks: Protecting Human Subjects
  • Lessons of the Henrietta Lacks Story: Bioethics and Social Justice 

Author Visit

Rebecca Skloot visited campus on November 14, 2012 as part of the President's Lecture Series. Other program sponsors included:

  • Coriell Institute for Medical Research
  • Cooper Medical School of Rowan University
  • Rowan University - Office of the President
  • Rowan University - Academic Transition Programs
  • Rowan University - Biological Science
  • Rowan University - Student Life
  • Rowan University - University Events