Past Common Reads
2020 | “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez
“The Book of Unknown Americans” was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014 and one of Amazon’s Top 10 Books of the Year. It was the Daily Beast Novel of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, an NPR Great Read, a Target Book of the Month selection and was chosen one of the best books of the year by BookPage, Oprah.com and School Library Journal.
Cristina Henriquez was born in Delaware and attended school in the United States but spent summers in Panama. She did not speak Spanish as a child. She majored in English at Northwestern University and graduated in 1999. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. While in Iowa, she often spent her own time writing about Panama, which later became the setting for her first two books. Henriquez’s father is from Panama and migrated to the United States in 1971 for college. Her mother is from New Jersey and worked in Delaware public schools as a translator.
2019 | “There There” by Tommy Orange
"There There" is a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about a side of America few of us have ever seen: the lives of urban Native Americans. The book, which tells the story of 12 characters living in Oakland, closely examines what it means to be a Native American. The New York Times bestselling novel was named among the 2018 National Book Critics’ Circle Awards and to the New York Times Favorite Books of 2018. Author Tommy Orange is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California and lives in Angel’s Camp, California.
2018 | “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover
Tara Westover is an American author living in the United Kingdom. Born in Idaho to a father opposed to public education, she never attended school. The book chronicles her journey, including the days she spent working in her father's junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. After that first encounter with education, she pursued learning for a decade, graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and subsequently winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned a Master of Philosophy from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a doctorate in history in 2014.
2017 | "Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
"Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)" was first published in 2007, revised for a second edition in 2015, and remains highly relevant in 2017. Author Carol Tavris describes the cognitive biases that lead most people to justify beliefs that are outdated, decisions that have proved to be misguided and the harms we inflict on others. “It’s good to be able to justify our mistakes so that we can sleep at night,” Tavris said, “but sometimes, if we want to improve our lives and relationships, a few sleepless nights are called for.”
2016 | "The Soul of an Octopus" by Sy Montgomery
In “The Soul of an Octopus,” the author documents growing scientific appreciation of the intelligence of the octopus and describes her relationship with a series of the creatures at the New England Aquarium in Boston and in oceans around the world. This book touches on so many disciplines, including marine biology, ocean ecology, literature, psychology and philosophy.
2015: "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
"All the Light We Cannot See" is set in the years leading up to World War II in Europe, as well as a key period after the Allied invasion of France in 1944. It tells the parallel stories of Marie-Laure, a blind girl living in occupied France, and Werner, a German orphan whose extraordinary mechanical abilities earn him a place among the Nazi elite. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. All the Light We Cannot See was the first work of fiction and the first book by an Idahoan to be selected in the eight-year history of U of I’s Common Read program.
2014 | "Stealing Buddha’s Dinner" by Bich Minh Nguyen
2013 | "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit" by Barry Estabrook
"Tomatoland" combines history, legend, passion for taste, and investigative reporting on modern agribusiness and environmental issues into a revealing, controversial look at the tomato, the fruit we love so much that we eat $4 billion-worth annually. Estabrook traces the supermarket tomato from its birthplace in the deserts of Peru to the impoverished town of Immokalee, Florida, a.k.a. the tomato capital of the United States. It was the 2012 International Association of Culinary Professionals Award Winner in the Food Matters category.
2012 | "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells — taken without her knowledge in 1951 — became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.
2011 | "The Big Burn" by Timothy Egan
"The Big Burn" chronicles the largest forest fire in America, and how it made Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy as the president who saved our wild places. In August 1910, strong wind accompanied by drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, starting hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber in the blink of an eye. The Big Burn tells an epic story while painting a moving portrait of the people who lived it, and offers a critical cautionary tale.
2010 | "The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal" by Jonathan Mooney
"The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal" addresses the challenges all of us have faced regardless of ability; being different, yet wanting to be like everyone else. The book was well received, and the author, Jonathan Mooney, joined us on campus and presented to the university community during fall orientation activities.
2009 | "Deep Economy" by Bill McKibben
"Deep Economy" by Bill McKibben was been selected for the 2009 Common Read book for incoming students by a committee of faculty, staff, and students.
2008 | "1 Dead in Attic-After Katrina" by Chris Rose
"1 Dead in Attic-After Katrina" is a collection of stories by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, recounting the first harrowing year and a half of life in New Orleans after Hurrican Katrina. This book was well received and over 600 students attended the half day discussion. The author Chris Rose also joined us on campus and presented to student, community and administrative groups.