The end of the semester often brings to mind Crystal Eastman’s 1920 essay, “Now We Can Begin.” Like any Commencement speaker worth her salt, Eastman, a feminist and pacifist, chose the momentous occasion of the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920 to look forward rather than backward. She saw the long fought-for victory of granting women the right to vote as a beginning of the next struggle.
I see similarities to the semester’s end. Certainly, students have much to celebrate as they complete their final essays (as do you when you finish commenting on them!). But I think of a semester’s end not as a closure, but as an opening. This feeling came to mind as I read Andrea Lunsford’s recent post on “Recommended Reading,” which sent me searching for a pencil to lengthen my “Must Read” list.
As instructors, we devote a lot of time to recommending reading. We structure our classes around texts, building an arc that we hope will engage our students and inspire critical thinking and writing. The process Stuart Greene and I went through as we selected readings for From Inquiry to Academic Writing felt a lot like making a “recommended reading” list. We chose pieces that excited us, and that we couldn’t wait to share with students. Every headnote I wrote for the reader functions as a recommendation, too: “Oh! You’ve just got to read this, because…”
After a semester of our reading recommendations, I like to turn to students, and ask them to suggest summer reading material for their peers and me. In my early teaching days, I would tape pieces of paper outside my office door, inviting students to list book titles and authors with a one-sentence endorsement: “You must read this read this, because…” These days, we gather those recommendations through courseware or campus social media, but the spirit is the same. Students are the authorities, with the responsibility of pitching their favorite texts to prospective readers in a tiny argument that can have big impact.
Among the student-recommended texts that I’d recommend in turn:
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
- A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
- Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi
- What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time, by Dar Williams
What’s on your summer reading list? And what do your students recommend? Like Crystal Eastman, but with a long list of book titles in hand, I say: “Now, we can begin.”
Photo Credit: April Lidinsky