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UC Berkeley Press Release

Survival theme for freshman summer reading

– Students navigating their freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall may find the 2007 unofficial UC Berkeley Summer Reading List especially helpful. The theme is listed as "Survival!" on the brochures tucked into their orientation packets.

The exclamation mark was "added for excitement," according to Steve Tollefson, who has been compiling the annual list with Elizabeth Dupuis, associate university librarian, for more than 20 years.

"We were a little leery that we'd only get clones of 'An Inconvenient Truth,'" said Tollefson, a College Writing Programs lecturer at UC Berkeley and director of the Office of Educational Development. "We wanted people recommending the books to take 'survival' in a broader sense, which they did. And we love the fact that the genres are so wide-ranging, from 'Gilgamesh' to 'The Population Bomb' to Octavia Butler."

After soliciting recommendations from various members of the campus community, Tollefson and Dupuis received results that ranged from post-apocalyptic narratives such as "Lord of the Flies" to Primo Levi's memoir of life in a concentration camp, to harrowing tales of survival on islands and in strange ecosystems.

"Global warming, extinction of species, loss of biodiversity, the avian flu, pollution, globalization; the threats to our survival are all around us. How do we survive as a planet, as a species, as cultures, as individuals?" Tollefson and Dupuis wrote in asking for recommendations. "We're looking for books — of any genre — about survival: the threats to survival, the paths to survival, tales of survival from the past, and thoughts on what it means to survive or not — human, plant, animal, planet."

UC Berkeley librarian Karen Munro responded with Octavia Butler's "The Parable of the Sower."

"I read this book as a graduate student, one hot summer in Iowa. It's set in a frightening, falling-apart California of the future, a place where drought, pollution, drugs, and violence have made life almost impossible outside of gated communities," she wrote in her recommendation.

Another fitting narrative that made the list was "My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student." For the book, anthropologist Cathy Small, under the nom de plume Rebekah Nathan, enrolled as an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University, where she teaches. Gonzalo Arrizon, coordinator for study strategies at UC Berkeley's Student Learning Center, found it eye-opening.

"Although her intentions were to uncover why students just seemed to be 'surviving' through the curriculum by doing minimal work, Small discovers that students have a desire to be challenged even when they are being discouraged by their peers or poor teaching," Arrizon wrote. "This ethnography is a must-read for any undergraduate wanting to thrive, and not just survive, at a research university."

Meanwhile, Kathleen R. Ryan, assistant professor of plant and microbial biology, found Mike Davis' "Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster" surprisingly riveting. "There's a section on long-term climate changes and weather patterns that I thought would be deadly boring, but it was riveting. Honestly, I really don't like nonfiction much, but I loved this," she wrote in her recommendation.

Also a highlight of the 2007 list is Gary Wills' "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America," which explores survival on many levels during the Civil War in 1863. The book will also be the featured text for the College of Letters & Science's "On the Same Page" program for fall 2007, when Wills is scheduled to deliver a lecture at UC Berkeley and meet with students to discuss the book. "On the Same Page" is a program that provides each freshman with a book that has changed the way we view the world, as well as opportunities to discuss the book with faculty members.

As an avid reader, Tollefson vigorously agrees with UC Berkeley physicist Bob Jacobsen's pick, "Population Bomb."

"A book that has fallen off the radar, but is clearly, vastly, more timely than it was when it came out even if some of the details, as I recall from 30 years ago, are no longer right," he said.

The list is not required reading for freshmen, but for their enlightenment and enjoyment. Visit: http://reading.berkeley.edu for the list and written recommendations. A blog will also be attached to the Summer Reading List Web site, and readers can send in their comments.

This year's picks are:

  • "Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster" by Mike Davis (1998)
  • "Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival" by Bernd Heinrich (2003)
  • "My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student" by Rebekah Nathan (2005)
  • "The Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler (1993)
  • "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America" by Garry Wills (1992)
  • "Island" by Aldous Huxley (1962)
  • "The Population Bomb" by Paul R. Ehrlich (1968)
  • "The Epic of Gilgamesh," translated by Andrew George (2003)
  • "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1960)
  • "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding (1955)
  • "Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity" by Primo Levi (1961)
  • "Mama Day" by Gloria Naylor (1988)
  • "The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey" by Candice Millard (2005)
  • "Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Trade" by Saidiya Hartman (2007)
  • "Falling Leaves: A True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter" by Adeline Yen Mah (1998)
  • "77 Dream Songs" by John Berryman (1964)