For students starting college, August is the time to quit the summer job, dump the high school sweetheart and, finally, open the book their college has asked them to finish before classes start.
Nationwide, hundreds of colleges and universities, large and small, public and private, assign first-year students a book to read over the summer, hoping to create a sense of community and engage students intellectually.
While there are no reliable statistics on summer reading programs, a recent survey of more than 100 programs by a student researcher at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., found that most had started in the last four years, although a few go back decades.
The range of books colleges use is enormous, covering fiction and nonfiction. Classics are largely absent, with most of the works chosen falling closer to Oprah than academic.