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Common Reading Experience List for 2014 Narrows

Final selection to be announced in February, shared with all incoming freshmen

Final 5 books for the 2014 Common Reading Experience Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications
Final 5 books for the 2014 Common Reading Experience Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The committee charged with selecting the book for the 2014 UM Common Reading Experience has narrowed the field of nominations to five finalists. Committee members will read all five books through the end of January and review them for the final selection, which will be announced in February.

“We are grateful for the many nominations received for consideration,” said Robert Cummings, director of the UM Center for Writing and Rhetoric. “The Common Reading Experience is meant to unite our incoming freshmen and our larger university community. Participation throughout the process – from nomination to reading the final selection – is truly appreciated.”

The five finalists are:

“Canada” by Richard Ford (Ecco, 2012)

Ford’s newest novel entails murder, morality and the story of a young boy’s coming of age. When 15-year-old Del Parsons’ parents rob a North Dakota bank, his normal life is altered forever. His parents’ imprisonment threatens to create a turbulent and uncertain future for Del and his twin sister, Berner. While Berner runs away to avoid being shipped off by child welfare services, Del is taken in by expat American Arthur Remlinger, a mysterious and alluring fugitive with a dark and violent past. Undone by the disaster of his parents’ robbery, Del struggles to remake himself. “Canada” is a novel that explores boundaries traversed, innocence lost and reconciled, and the consoling bonds of family.

“Into the Free” by Julie Cantrell (David C. Cook, 2012)

A young girl growing into adolescence confronts family abuse and a dark past in this debut novel by Julie Cantrell. In Depression-era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds and her “nothing mama” live in a dilapidated cabin, occasionally receiving unwelcome visits from the violent family patriarch, Jack. With her only friend, Sloth, dead, Millie struggles to find purpose and happiness. For answers, Millie turns to the Gypsies who travel through town each spring. But when unlucky events consume her, she discovers some surprising secrets that eventually help her find hope in God’s love. A visceral and gripping journey of a young woman’s revelations about God and self, this novel entices readers with its compelling story about personal struggle and spiritual resilience.

“Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury USA, 2013)

A memoir by the winner of the 2011 National Book Award, “Men We Reaped recounts the lives of five men in Ward’s life who died over the course of five years. Ward explores the effects of drugs, accidents, suicide and the struggles that follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Facing the reality that a legacy of racism and generational poverty fostered the drug addiction and dissolution of family and relationships with which each of these men struggled, Ward writes bravely about the pressures this environment brings on men, and of the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. As the sole member of her family to leave her impoverished home and pursue higher education, Ward brings perspective to the parallel American universe.

“The Education of a Lifetime” by Robert Khayat (Nautilus Publishing, 2013)

In this memoir, the former Ole Miss chancellor recounts his childhood in Moss Point and the impact that the state’s history of racism had on his tenure as chancellor. Admired for his athleticism, which he parlayed into a career with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Khayat used the same dexterity and commitment needed to compete on the gridiron to challenge the role of Old South symbols in the university’s future. Leading reform from within as a member of the Ole Miss family, Khayat successfully removed the Confederate flag and Colonel Reb as visible reminders of the school’s segregationist past. During Khayat’s tenure, the university’s enrollment increased 43 percent while minority enrollment grew 78 percent and research grants topped $100 million.

“The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2013)

At the height of WWII, thousands of civilians, many of them young women from small towns across the U.S., were recruited to the secret city of Oak Ridge, Tenn. Even though Oak Ridge consumed more electricity than New York City, it was not found on any map. Promised good wages and an opportunity to help end the war, the women were actually not told the true nature of what their work would accomplish. The secret government project, revealed at the end of the war to be the atomic bomb, was kept hidden from even the women who worked there. Drawing from the voices and experiences of the women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, “The Girls of Atomic City opens the box of secrets and reveals a mix of pride, guilt, joy and shame.

— Ole Miss News Desk

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Adam Brown
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