Summer Reading Requirement Bonds New Students

Montclair State University has inaugurated a new program designed to create a greater sense of community among new students through a shared experience.

Montclair Book 2011 is a series of events and undertakings revolving around a book assigned for students to read over the summer. This year's book is The Geography of Bliss, a New York Times bestseller by Eric Weiner, a veteran foreign correspondent for National Public Radio.

“Our view was that if we had a common reading program, as so many other universities have, it would provide a common intellectual experience for students,” said Melinda Knight, professor of English and director of the Center for Writing Excellence, which offers writing consultation services to students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The book has been integrated throughout the University curriculum and will be discussed in three academic courses taken by first-year students—College Writing I, Fundamentals of Speech, and New Student Seminar. Knight said that writing assignments based on students’ summer reading of The Geography of Bliss will help faculty members make class placement assessments.

A light-hearted exploration of the subject of happiness, The Geography of Bliss takes readers on a travelogue around the world in search of the happiest countries and what can be learned from their inhabitants.

In his quest, the peripatetic Weiner journeyed to Iceland (surprisingly, one of the happiest countries), Bhutan (which measures Gross National Happiness), and eight other countries, among them Switzerland, Qatar, Thailand, and the United States. He found that Americans are wealthier than they are happy, although they tend to be fixated on the pursuit of happiness.

Montclair Book 2011 will feature a campus visit by the author who will speak and read from The Geography of Bliss on Tuesday, September 20 at 7 p.m. at the 7th floor conference center in University Hall. On the same day at 4:30 p.m., he will read from his new book, Man Seeks God: My Flirtation with the Divine, in the Live Literature series, also in University Hall.

The Montclair Book Faculty Advisory Committee, composed of nine faculty members from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), unanimously chose The Geography of Bliss after reading 25 titles last summer, which were winnowed down to a list of four finalists.

“The criteria were that the book had to be non-fiction, well-written, and readable. We wanted the book to engage first-year students and introduce them to a college-level process of inquiry,” explained Knight.

The Center is jointly sponsoring Montclair Book 2011 for first-year students with CHSS, the First-Year Writing Program, and the Division of Student Development and Campus Life.

The search has already begun for next year’s summer reading and Montclair Book 2012. “We want each class to have a book in common,” Knight said, adding that the faculty committee has been expanded to include representatives from other colleges.