Tag Archives: author essay

Who would you be if you weren’t defined by your body? David Levithan on his New York Times bestselling novel Every Day

9780307931894By David Levithan, author of Every Day (Ember, September 2013).

When I was writing Every Day, I was guided by a set of questions. These questions also happen to be the ones I find that readers ask themselves most after reading the book.

Who would you be if you weren’t defined by your body? If you had no set gender or race or parentage or clique, if you were purely your inner self, who could you become? How would you define yourself?

I will admit to you: I had no idea how Every Day would work as an FYE book. Luckily this past fall I got to go to Northern Arizona University and see firsthand how it went. Continue reading

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From The Inner-City To The Operating Room: How College Success Impacted Sampson Davis

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By Sampson Davis, author of Living and Dying in Brick City (Spiegel & Grau, February 2013).  He will be speaking at the First-Year Experience® 2014 Conference in San Diego, California from February 14-18.

College—the beginning of a new frontier, at least it was for me. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, a school system with dropout rate at more than fifty percent, I knew the odds were stacked against me. Not only did I beat those odds and graduate college, but I also went on to complete a medical degree. While I certainly worked hard for my success, I could not have achieved what I did without the help of many educators along the way.

One of those individuals was Dr. Linda Hsu, my college genetics professor. I will never forget and will always be grateful to Dr. Hsu for her kind acts, but one stands out in particular. It was the eve before my first day of medical school, and I had yet to receive my loan funds to purchase books. The weather outside was horrible with downpours and flood warnings. The hazardous weather might have impeded the mail delivery, but it didn’t stop Dr. Hsu, who stood all of 4’11” with a powerful voice. She jumped into her two-door hatchback and drove to the dorm to deliver funds so that I could purchase my books the next morning. That act of kindness, and her belief in me, touched me deeply and cemented my view in paying it forward—“to whom much is given, much is required.” Continue reading

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How College Habits Changed My Life

College saved my life. Or, more accurately, the good and bad habits I learned in college saved my life.

And since then, nothing has been the same.

In 1993, I left Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a high school with a 50 percent drop out rate, for New Haven, Connecticut, and Yale. Here is what I did not know at the time: that sheets should be washed more than once a semester; that if you stand in the rain for 40 minutes, a shower afterward might be a wise idea; that when a professor says you need to read the book, you actually need to read the book; that I would develop the best – and worst – habits of my life, and they would shape every major decision over the next two decades, including the profession I chose, who I married, how I raise my children and, today, why I believe those choices have a meaningful purpose. However, at my freshman assembly, I had no idea what was to come. That day, Yale’s provost gave the assembled class three pieces of advice: if you are feeling tired, go to sleep. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. And if you are feeling homesick or overwhelmed, have a small piece of chocolate and remember that everyone else – no matter how confident or popular they seem – feels the same way. It was great advice. It was – though I didn’t know it at the time – a small tutorial in how to create habits by choosing cues Continue reading

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A Message from My Orange Duffel Bag Author Sam Bracken

Abandoned at age 15, Sam Bracken battled homelessness, poverty, and abuse to successfully earn a full-ride football scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology. When he left for college, everything he owned fit in an orange duffel bag. Now, in this illustrated memoir and road map to personal transformation, Sam shares his story as well as everything he’s learned about overcoming the odds.

When I was 13-years-old and in eighth grade, a caring teacher discovered that I needed glasses. Up until that point, I’d always been in special education classes. I grew up in Las Vegas in a family that was like a whacked out version of The Brady Bunch on an episode of Cops. I suffered every kind of abuse imaginable and started drinking and doing drugs at age 9. Mobsters and motorcycle gang members were my role models. As an eighth grader I decided I didn’t want to be like my family. I stopped drinking and doing drugs and with encouragement from my teachers and lots of hard work, I went from a C and F student in special education to a straight A student. My mother suffered a mental breakdown when I was 15 and abandoned me. I kept my homelessness secret Continue reading

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Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya on Writing His Novel The Watch

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s new novel, The Watch, takes a timeless tragedy and brings it into present-day Afghanistan. Taking its cues from the Antigone myth, Roy-Bhattacharya recreates the chaos, intensity, and immediacy of battle, and conveys the inevitable repercussions felt by the soldiers, their families, and by one sister. This books takes students through the reality of this very contemporary conflict, and both the nature and futility of war.  Read what the author has to say about his new novel:

The decade-long war in Afghanistan is America’s longest war, Britain’s most expensive war since World War II, and NATO’s first major war outside Europe.

In terms of casualties, the U.S. and U.K. apart, the Afghan theater has seen Canada’s highest combat casualties since the Korean War; Australia’s highest combat casualties since Vietnam; France’s highest combat casualties since Algeria; the highest combat casualties for Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden since World War II; the highest combat casualties for the Netherlands since the Dutch withdrew from Indonesia in 1949; the highest combat fatalities for Spain since the Ifni War in Morocco in 1958; and the highest combat casualties for Poland in a foreign war since World War II. As for Afghan civilian and military casualties, we have no definite numbers.

When I set out to write The Watch, I wanted to give voice to the statistics, especially those counted as collateral damage Continue reading

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A Volunteer’s Story to Inspire & Challenge Students

THE THIRD WAVE by Alison Thompson

Alison Thompson, author of The Third Wave: A Volunteer Story (Spiegel & Grau, 2011), recalls her experiences as a volunteer; experiences she believes will both inspire and challenge students to pursue their own journeys of service and action:

September 11th, 2011, marked the ten year anniversary of my journey around the world as a volunteer. On that day in 2001, when all I knew was that a tower had collapsed and that my good friend had been in it, I strapped on my rollerblades, packed up my first aid kit, and headed downtown to see what I could do to help. I ended up staying at Ground Zero for nine months, sifting through the rubble, collecting bodies, and tending to the firemen and ironworkers. Since then, I’ve made it my life’s mission to be on the ground whenever a major disaster strikes. I spent fourteen months in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, and I currently work as a full-time volunteer in Haiti, where I moved right after the 2010 earthquake.

I wrote The Third Wave in order to provide a glimpse of what it’s really like on the ground after a disaster. I wanted show readers that

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Teaching Students How to Live

Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live, has a message to share with her readers on why she chose to write Montaigne’s new biography:

Why did I write about Montaigne? Mostly because I wanted to keep on reading him.

Ever since my early 20s, when I picked up his Essays by chance, wanting a good book for a long train journey, he never really left me. My first response to his work on that train was one of astonishment. How could someone who wrote in the 1500s sound so familiar, so conversational, so like me? It was like having a friend or a traveling companion sitting opposite me as we whizzed through the landscape. For years after that, Montaigne was never far from my side. And I discovered that practically everything else I read had the power of leading me back to him in some way—for Montaigne is the first truly modern author, the great hidden presence behind 400 years of literature, and indeed behind much of philosophy, politics, and social theory over those centuries.

This is mainly for one simple reason: No one before Montaigne had written so honestly and minutely about the inner world of a human being.

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Living Half a Life

Darin Strauss, author of the power and unforgettable memoir Half a Life, has written something special for his readers that we’d like to share on Common Reads. In Half a Life, acclaimed novelist Darin Strauss recounts a tragedy and its aftermath. He explores loss and guilt, maturity and accountability, hope and acceptance. The result is a staggering, uplifting tour de force.

We are very excited to have Strauss as one of our featured speakers at next year’s FYE conference. In his following essay, Strauss gives us a powerful picture of why he finally chose, after 18 years, to write this memoir. He also explains what the clarity and healing that has come with this revealing has meant both to himself and to his readers.

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When I was 18, I was in a car accident: a girl swerved in front of my car, I couldn’t avoid her, and she died. I moved soon afterward, and so this crash and its aftermath made up  the secret I carried around for 18 years. Until I wrote HALF A LIFE.

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