UC Berkeley press release


UC Berkeley students choose 18 books for incoming freshmen to read during summer vacation

by Gretchen Kell

Berkeley -- Is the Bible your idea of summer reading? How about taking "The Communist Manifesto" to the beach? Or cozying up in a hammock to "The Origin of Species?"

While not everyone's idea of vacation books, these works are on this year's University of California at Berkeley summer reading list for incoming freshmen. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this season, the unofficial list -- produced by Moffitt Library and the Office of Student Life/Educational Development -- is tucked into information packets that new students receive at campus orientations.

This summer, for the first time since 1987, the books were chosen not by faculty or academic staff members but by freshmen and sophomores.

Steve Tollefson, faculty development coordinator for the Office of Student Life/Educational Development, co-produces the list with campus librarian Ellen Meltzer. He said he initially was worried about asking students, fearing they would choose books that were more slick than substantial.

"But clearly, these books aren't that at all," said Tollefson, who also is a lecturer for UC Berkeley's College Writing Program. "I'm glad to see students like 'real' books."

Meltzer said she was surprised "how canonical the books are. Many of them are the traditional books often studied in college as well as high school. It's wonderful, in a way, since these works will permeate a lot of their courses and are important works."

"I think these students are saying, 'If you haven't read these books, they will make an impact on you and your education,'" she said.

Also on the 1997 summer reading list are the classics "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury," "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse."

Meltzer said several other books listed are "part of the canon of the 1960s. There's a legendary importance placed on those books," especially by young people. They include "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," by Tom Robbins, Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion" and "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.

Tollefson said the idea for the reading list came from a close look at the paperwork UC Berkeley was giving incoming students.

"Mostly, students at orientation get lots of forms to fill out telling them to do this and do that, but they get very little that addresses the academic life they're going to pursue," he said. "This is something to remind them that there is going to be depth to their freshman year, not just paperwork to complete."

To prepare the summer reading lists, Tollefson and Meltzer each year have asked a different group of faculty or staff members to recommend books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry that would have influenced them at age 18.

But two years ago, Meltzer was asked by a reporter for the Daily Californian, the UC Berkeley student newspaper, whether students would actually read the summer books that professors and others recommend.

"That was an important thought," said Meltzer. "We decided we should ask students themselves what they would select. They wound up choosing books that were very challenging."

In a letter this spring to a group of UC Berkeley freshmen and sophomores, Tollefson and Meltzer asked them to "tell new students what you think they should read."

"Choose a book that you like -- or better, that you love -- that means something to you" and write a brief description of it, the letter said.

"I'm not a radically religious person, but I love the Bible," wrote Jason Kibbey, a freshman, in recommending The Old Testament. "...If you read the Bible as a piece of literature rather than a purely religious text, you can be both entertained and educated. I guarantee you that if you make a Biblical reference in any of your freshman courses you are sure to impress your GSI (graduate student instructor) or professor."

Shlomy Kattan, a sophomore, said of "The Communist Manifesto:" "I believe that anyone can and will benefit from reading this treatise. I read it my senior year of high school and it will be nearly impossible to describe how much it affected me."

The summer reading list has become popular over the years not only with new UC Berkeley students but with professors, high school teachers and librarians.



1. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (Harvard University Press, 1859)

"The impact of this work on the world of science cannot be overstated. It is the foundation of modern biological thought...." Randy Clayton, freshman, molecular and cell biology.

2. The Postman by David Brin (Bantam Books, 1986)

"...a great science fiction novel that should not be confused with the movie 'Il Postino.' The novel is based in a post World War II world. The story focuses on a wanderer who stumbles upon the vestiges of a lost civilization in the form of a dead postman. The wanderer picks up the uniform off the dead man and unwittingly assumes the identity of a U.S. postman..." Ray Ming Chang, freshman, political science.

3. White Noise by Don DeLillo (Viking Press, 1985)

"'White Noise' is a satirical portrayal of a modern family and its complete breakdown. With the increase of technology, the anxiety and fear of death become inescapable and govern the lives of adults while children are raised by the mass media and cradled in misinformation...." Jacqueline Cooke, sophomore, ethnic studies.

4. Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford (Lippincott ,1968)

"'Red Sky at Morning' is a short novel about a teenage boy growing up in a small town in New Mexico while his father is away at war. He writes about his experiences with humor and a wry tenderness...." Alisa Seo, sophomore, ethnic studies.

5. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking (Bantam Books, 1988)

"A must for all science majors and humanities majors. It demystifies science and it is especially useful to those taking Astronomy 10 to fulfill the physical science breadth requirement...." Eric Girma, freshman, molecular and cell biology.

6. In Mad Love and War by Joy Harjo (Wesleyan University Press, 1990)

"...Although cryptic at first, Harjo's poetry reveals aspects of traditional Native American culture and raises issues facing Native Americans in the United States." Allison Tokunaga, freshman, resource management.

7. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (Dutton, 1992)

The child narrator...offers an insightful and tormented view of life in Greenville County, South Carolina; a life in which she must cope with adolescence, poverty, and abuse...." Emalie P. Huriaux, sophomore, English.

8. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (Penguin Books, 1967)

"...By reading this essay a person can learn a great deal about one of the greatest political ideologies of all time and become familiar with the writing of one of history's greatest philosophers and engage in some deep introspection." Shlomy Kattan, sophomore, English.

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925)

"...Definitely referred to in lots of college English classes. For anybody interested in the post war era, decadent prohibition era of the twenties or just interesting characters in general." Joanne Chan, freshman, English.

10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Macmillan, 1956)

"...It is a wonderful story of redemption, good versus evil, and individuality that will rest well in the minds of intelligent readers everywhere." Erica R. Fagnan, freshman, economics/business.

11. The Old Testament (Oxford University Press, 1955)

"There is probably not a single text that has had as much influence on our culture as the Old Testament. There are an abundance of Biblical references/allusions in any of the social science/humanities courses that you will take at Berkeley..." Jason Kibbey, freshman, religious studies.

12. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (J. Cape and H. Smith, 1929)

"Trying to figure out what happened is like trying to put a puzzle together. Everything revolves around the Compson family, a rather dysfunctional family, and how its members deal with each other...." Kimberly Cunningham, sophomore, genetics & plant biology.

13. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey (Viking Press, 1964)

"...he paints a strikingly realistic picture of a family and the intricate dynamics within it, all the while maintaining a fascinating story that leads to a definite climax and aftermath...." Benjamin Klafter, freshman, undeclared.

14. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1987)

"He tells the story of a group of laborers, revealing the lives that go behind the building of bridges and sewers,...An evocative and intense and amazingly humane look at the heroics of everyday survival." Elizabeth Spackman, freshman, undeclared.

15. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins (Houghton Mifflin, 1976)

"(It) tells the tale of a hitchhiking female vagabond with a gross deformity. Although it is a comedy, and absolutely hilarious, it deals with subject matter (woman love) that is usually dealt with dramatically or not at all...." Jeff Phan, freshman, biology.

16. America Is in the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946)

"This book is an excellent autobiographical account of being Filipino-American/Asian American...." Grace Ma, freshman, biology.

17. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1927)

"This classic novel explores such issues as time, decay, isolation and a woman's role in society. Woolf is a master of characterization and her free indirect style allows the reader to move in and out of the psyche of all of her characters..." Susan Brennan, freshman, sociology.

18. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Harmony Books, 1979)

"This book will definitely give the reader a new viewpoint on life in general. Plus, it's a fun read (and who can argue with that?)....It's also a very easy read -- none of that nasty symbolism stuff to impede your enjoyment of the book." Asad Aboobaker, freshman, physics/astrophysics.

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