Summer reading selections for incoming Carolina college students

Pressley Baird,

Every year, universities across the country ask their incoming freshmen to read a book and talk about it.

Some of them actually do it. (*raises hand*)

The books these schools choose are usually really interesting and touch on big issues that college students are probably already thinking about.

Here’s what schools in the Triangle have picked this summer.

Duke: “The Prince of Los Cocuyos” by Richard Blanco

The back-of-the-book synopsis:
A poignant, hilarious and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his life as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning identity.

Richard Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of “The Brady Bunch” and “Leave it to Beaver” — an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.”

Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer — as an artist — prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the 2013 inaugural poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age story and the people who influenced him.

A prismatic and lyrical narrative rich with the colors, sounds, smells and textures of Miami, Blanco’s personal narrative is a resonant account of how he discovered his authentic self and ultimately, a deeper understanding of what it means to be American. His is a singular yet universal story that beautifully illuminates the experience of “becoming;” how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning and tenderness that define a life.

The reviews:


N.C. State: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The back-of-the-book synopsis:
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful framework for understanding our nation’s history .

Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men — bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

“Between the World and Me” is Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son — and readers — the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.

Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, “Between the World and Me” clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

The reviews:


UNC: “How Does It Feel to be a Problem?” by Moustafa Bayoumi

The back-of-the-book synopsis:
Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic “The Souls of Black Folk”: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America’s new “problem,” Arab- and Muslim-Americans.

Bayoumi takes readers into the lives of seven 20-somethings living in Brooklyn, home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States. He moves beyond stereotypes and clichés to reveal their often unseen struggles, from being subjected to government surveillance to the indignities of workplace discrimination.

Through it all, these young men and women persevere through triumphs and setbacks as they help weave the tapestry of a new society that is, at its heart, purely American.

The reviews:


N.C. Central: N.C. Central has transitioned away from its Eagle Reading Experience, said Christina Garrett, the coordinator of transitional, parent and family programs for the university.

“It is something that is being reconsidered by numerous departments but at the time is not a requirement for incoming students,” Garrett said.


Pressley Baird is the editor of, where this article originally ran.

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