What First-Years Read in 2022

Many colleges select common reading as a way for new students to discuss grand challenges from interdisciplinary perspectives and to build community around the exchange of ideas. Below is a selection of first year common reading choices from the Society’s 293 chapters. From graphic memoirs to mathematics, these works showcase the diverse voices and perspectives that will inspire the Class of 2026 at the beginning of their arts and sciences journeys.

Historical Fiction

Grendel by John Gardner (ΦBK, Washington University in St. Louis)

A 1971 retelling of the epic poem Beowulf, this frequently banned novel follows the anti-hero monster as he tells his own side of the story.


Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow

An imaginative rendering of the lives of New York’s fabled Collyer brothers, this story mixes family myth and history in a masterful way.


The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

In a bold way, Juan Gabriel Vásquez tackles the wrought history of how the drug trade unraveled lives in his home country, Colombia.


We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This unsettling novel follows a strange and possibly murderous family and the events that occur when a cousin arrives at their New England estate.

Contemporary Fiction

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

This fantastical and emotional novel follows the journey a grieving family takes as their possessions grow and begin to speak.


Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

This collection of stories tackles some of humanity’s oldest (and newest) questions in a unique and profound way.


Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

When Daunis Fontaine witnesses a shocking murder, she is forced to go undercover in an FBI nvestigation.


The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

In light of global warming, indigenous people of North America begin being hunted and harvested for their ability to dream. This novel follows a group of these people as they work to hide and stop the powers against them.


Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This post-apocalyptic novel follows Lauren Olamina, a fifteen-year-old with hyperempathy, as she navigates a world of social chaos brought on by climate change and economic crises.


The Book of Delights by Ross Gay 

This collection of essays, written daily over a year, provide unique insight into the joys of life that can be easy to overlook amid life’s complexities.


Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

In this graphic memoir about a family struggling with addiction, Jarrett Krosoczka finds the art that helps him survive.


Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, and Showing Up - and What We Make When We Make Dinner by Liz Hauck

Mourning her father, high school teacher Liz Hauck began a weekly cooking program in a residential home for teenage boys in state care. This memoir captures the ways we come together at the table and the intersections of cooking and community.


Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life by Katherine E. Standefer

After being shocked by her implanted cardiac defibrillator, the author of this intimate book examines healthcare, technology, and the cost of saving a life.


The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

This memoir follows Francisco Cantú, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, through a career in and out of the Border Patrol and explores the violence of the American Southern border on both sides.


While the Earth Sleeps We Travel: Stories, Poetry, and Art from Young Refugees Around the World by Ahmed M. Badr

This collection of poetry, personal stories, and art from dozens of young refugees seeks to amplify their often unheard perspectives.

Natural Science

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green 

Based on the podcast of the same name, this anthology from John Green rates different parts of humanity, such as the QWERTY keyboard and Canada Geese, on a five-star scale.


Guardians of the Trees: A Journey of Hope Through Healing the Planet by Dr. Kinari Webb

This memoir follows Kinari Webb on her journey across the world and at the intersection of medicine and environmental conservation.


Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

This book is a prize-winning examination of how a gender gap in data has an impact on bias and women.


Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert (ΦBK, Yale University)

Author Elizabeth Kolbert examines how the very sorts of human interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation.


Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Life, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

When taxonomist David Starr Jordan’s discoveries came plummeting down, he chose to rebuild instead of giving up. This book follow’s Lulu Miller as she learns more about Mr. Jordan, the scientific world, and herself.

Social Science

Disability Visibility by Alice Wong 

This collection of essays provides a glimpse into the rich and complex lives of people with disabilities and invites readers to reimagine their own understandings about this community.


How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

This book leads readers on a tour of American monuments and landmarks, exploring how slavery has deeply shaped our collective history.


Tell Me Who You Are by Winona Guo (ΦBK, Harvard College) and Priya Vulchi

Deferring their college admission, authors Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi took a tour of America to collect first-person accounts of the surprising ways racism impacts the country each day and the impact listening to each other can have for effecting change.


When Getting Along is Not Enough: Reconstructing Race in Our Lives and Relationships by Maureen Walker

In this book, author Maureen Walker uses her background as a psychologist and African American who grew up in the South to guide educators and social service professionals through discussions about race and race relations.