Berkeley's List Is All Its Own
At UC Berkeley, the school's recommended summer reading list was started 15 years ago by a handful of professors from the college writing program. Previous lists have surprised students with such suggestions as "The Communist Manifesto," the Old Testament and "Winnie the Pooh."
This year, all 24 books are by current or former Berkeley professors, and are on such topics as horror films, vampires, slavery, surfing and AIDS. The selections include Bharati Mukherjee's "Jasmine," about a woman's journey from India to Iowa, and Walter Alvarez's "T-Rex and the Crater of Doom," a detective story about the search for a crater where an asteroid knocked out dinosaurs.
Steve Tollefson, a lecturer in the Berkeley writing program, said he knows most high school graduates want a breather before starting college. But his committee tries to pick books that students will like, books they can read while sunbathing at the beach or lounging at home.
"They may feel burned out," Tollefson said of the list, which is mailed out in late spring. "But we want them to use part of this break to actually prepare themselves in sort of a nonthreatening, no-tests way for college."
High school counselors say the reading lists are a perfect way for students to get up to speed before starting college. For all their confidence and pride, students headed to college are often nervous about the classwork and competition, counselors say. The summer reading is also a way to keep their minds from going to mush during the summer, they say.
Sara Jacobsen, who helps Rio Mesa High School students apply to college, said she knows graduating seniors are anxious for summer vacation, but she believes most college-bound students are motivated and will at least read a few of the recommended books.
"You're talking about the cream of the crop," Jacobsen said. "The more prepared they are, the better."
Hollie Lawyer, 18, who graduated from Ventura High School last Thursday, said she enjoys reading, but wants to take it easy this summer. For the past few summers, she has had to read, do reports and study for Advanced Placement exams.
"This will be the first summer I will actually have to myself," she said. "And I'm sick of testing, reports, teachers, books, just everything."
But Lawyer said she couldn't ignore the book suggestions altogether. She anticipates tough classes at Berkeley and worries about keeping up with her classmates.
"I probably won't be that ambitious and read the whole list," she said. "But I might read one or two while I am camping or relaxing."