When Albert Einstein stated, “the only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library,” he wasn’t referring strictly to textbooks and encyclopedias.
Discipline-specific texts are essential to the college experience, but the Common Reading program delivers invaluable perspectives that are essential for a well-rounded education.
“We spend a lot of time focused on the depth of material, but the Common Reading is a way of bringing to life the breadth of what our university does,” says Karen Weathermon, co-director of WSU’s Common Reading program. “Effective problem solving requires the ability to see issues from a lot of different perspectives. We want to bring as many lenses as we can to look at an issue.”
Soonish, is the Common Reading selection for 2018-19. The graphic novel explores advances in science and technology, but in a much different way than last year’s book, Ready Player One.
Ken Faunce incorporates the Common Reading book into the curriculum for History 105, a course taken by the majority of first-year students.
“On one level, the books help integrate students into the campus,” says Faunce. “They meet faculty and staff, and get ideas about the research that’s going on here. On another level, we bring in the book to discuss issues that will be important to them. They also develop skills they need by analyzing the book and realizing how it relates to their subject, their undergraduate career, and beyond.”
First-year students often discuss the Common Reading book in two or more classes. Kara Whitman earned a Common Reading Excellence award for her use of Ready Player One in her environmental science course last year. She designed a semester-long project that weaved the book’s themes into research on watersheds. Her students gained invaluable writing, research and presentation skills by diving into the projects.
“Sometimes you read a fictional book and think, ‘Oh, that was fun,’” Whitman says. “But getting them to draw connections from the fictional world to the real world we’re talking about in class, and their other classes, is really valuable.”
Last year nearly 1,800 individuals attended at least one Common Reading event, and Weathermon says the program’s participation rates have been steady throughout its history. The programming includes a visit from the authors—Soonish authors, wife and husband Kelly and Zach Weinersmith will be on the Pullman campus Oct. 22—as well as related lectures and events throughout the academic year. Weathermon aims for about 40 events that in some way relate to the book’s themes.
Susan Poch serves as co-director of the Common Reading program and she’s seen the connections the books can help form among students from different backgrounds.
“The Common Reading and the common experiences go a long way to helping bond students,” Poch says. “They don’t all take the same classes at the same time. They experience the book in different ways, but they know that everyone is using the same book and having that common experience.”
Great books can serve as gateways to lifelong learning, which is the ultimate outcome for students.
“The Common Reading really is engaging,” says Faunce. “It’s extremely beneficial, not only for their time at WSU, but going forward into the world. I think it gives them a great foundation.”
Faculty interested in using Soonish in their classes may request a desk copy of the book. The WSU community is also encouraged to nominate a book for the 2019-20 Common Reading selection. The nomination form will be available during the fall semester at commonreading.wsu.edu.