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Class of 2018 Commons Reading – Salvage the Bones


Posted by Jay Watson on Monday, February 10, 2014

The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons is all about community:  students and faculty living and learning together, sharing common experiences, and growing as individuals and as a group.  For the class of 2018, move-in day and the official start of The Commons experience is 192 days away (not that anyone’s counting). But until August 16, new students won’t just be sitting and watching the clock. No, on The Commons, there’s homework.

Each year, a committee of students, faculty, and staff chooses a book for the entire incoming first-year class to read before move-in. The book is mailed to students, who have the summer to do their reading. This assignment, The Commons Reading, forms the basis for a community-wide dialogue. Beginning during orientation and continuing throughout the year, The Commons Reading inspires conversations, programs, courses, and even a visit by the author. The Faculty Heads of House are involved as well, reading the book, participating in discussions, and facilitating the exchange of ideas.  Here’s a video with Dean of The Commons Frank Wcislo discussing last year’s selection, College, What it Was, Is, and Should Be.

Previous selections for The Commons Reading have included fascinating non-fiction works such as Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need by Peter Gomes and Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This year’s selection, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, is a work of fiction, though one that draws on the real-world events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Set in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where Ward grew up, the novel is told from the perspective of fifteen year-old Esch and deals with themes of race, honor, sexuality, free-will, and, I’m sure, even more.  Here’s a review (warning:  it’s full of spoilers), and here’s a post about Salvage the Bones from Inside ‘Dores student blogger Alexandria Khodadadi.

Since I’m a sucker for any reason to start a new book, I started reading Salvage the Bones last weekend. Based on the first several chapters, I can say confidently that the Class of 2018 will have a lot to discuss with this book. The novel begins with an epigraph that includes quotes from both the book of Deuteronomy and a song by Outkast. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I’m not sure what will.

The Commons Reading is just the first of many shared experiences in store for the Class of 2018. When they arrive on campus in August, they’ll participate in other programs such as Vanderbilt Visions and Commons Seminars, and they’ll do the Anchor Dash, Founder’s Walk, and many other Vanderbilt rites of passage.  These programs and traditions not only help to form the basis of a shared experience among students, but they also help to introduce students to the kind of intellectual and social environment they can expect at Vanderbilt – an environment where you can discuss art over dinner with a faculty member or where you can join the Dean’s book club. Experiences like these are at the heart of life at Vanderbilt, and The Commons Reading is a great introduction to that life.


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