Last year, I wrote that colleges’ summer reading picks for incoming freshmen could be seen as “a litmus test for how a school sees itself.” Intellectual? Cutting-edge? Not too difficult? There’s a book that fits that description! This year, Baltimore Fishbowl continues that tradition of overanalyzing freshman required reading from local universities:

Johns HopkinsThe Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore.
This pick, a popular option both locally and nationwide over the past several years, indicates that Johns Hopkins is interested in playing it safe these days. Sure, it’s a great story, and sure, Wes Moore actually went to Hopkins,  so the book is relevant in ways it wouldn’t be at, say, Harvard… but it’s still the least creative, least challenging choice. What are you going to pick next year, Hopkins? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? It’s time to branch out; next year, why not try  Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (also a Hopkins grad)?

Goucher CollegeLet the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

Most schools default to non-fiction when choosing their university-wide reading, so we applaud Goucher for going out on a limb. Assigning an entertaining (albeit literary) story sends a message to students that Goucher doesn’t want to stress them out too much during their pre-college summer. Picking a book with “world” in its title is a clear reference to Goucher’s famed study abroad requirement. Therefore, I conclude that the school likes to think of itself as worldly, fun, and thoughtful (but not stodgy).

UMBCHot:  Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth, by Mark Hertsgaard

No climate change deniers need apply:  the UMBC “New Student Book Experience” pick is a call to action about our warming planet and the potentially dire consequences that await us in the decades to come. Opting for Hartsgaard book shows UMBC to be unafraid to engage hot-button (pun intended) issues, while also encouraging students to get involved in the debates of the moment. Still, the university punted a bit; Hartsgaard’s book is heavy on the “hope for the future” angle. I would’ve been interested to see what would happen if the school picked something a bit more alarmist and controversial, like Derek Jensen’s Endgame.

Loyola UniversityThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

This novel, which engages questions of disability while also being quite a fun read, was a popular pick… 8 years ago. Get with the program, Loyola! I kid: Actually, this seems like an ideal choice for the Loyola audience, since the school has strong programs in various kinds of special ed, and this novel is great.