Common Book Program at Otterbein

A committee of faculty, staff, and students select from over fifty books each year in an effort to find a significant contemporary work to read the next year. Check out books under consideration for future Common Book programs in our Common Book LibGuide.

The selection of books for the common reading experience reflects Otterbein’s resolve to add an academic component to new student orientation and to present itself to incoming students as an intellectual community willing to grapple with significant contemporary issues. Since 1995, the series seeks to stimulate a year-long discussion of an academic theme derived from common book issues by exploring it in classes, residence halls, and co-curricular programming. This common reading experience involves all incoming first-year students, faculty, many staff members, and student leaders. A committee of faculty, staff, and students select from over fifty books each year in an effort to find a significant contemporary work to read the next year.

About the Common Book Program

Who Gets the Common Book?

The selected book is distributed to first-year students free of charge during orientation sessions in the summer. Faculty and staff also receive a free copy of the book so they may prepare for the upcoming year’s events. Program organizers encourage all faculty members to use the book in their classes, take part in the year-long programming related to the book, or discuss the book with first-year students in informal ways.

What Programs Incorporate the Common Book?

New students receive their book in a facilitated classroom discussion during summer orientation sessions. A packet of materials provides the student with reading strategies and a writing assignment. Students are expected to read the book and complete their assignment before returning to campus in the fall.

First Flight & First Year Seminars
When students return to campus in the fall, they assemble for an all-campus convocation which touches on the Common Book. From there, they participate in their First Year Seminar course meeting where the common book writing assignment is due and posted to their personal ePortfolio. Structured discussions around topics presented int he common book during First Flight allow for a common bond among new Otterbein students.

First Year Seminar
Students will continue to engage in discussions surrounding the themes presented in the Common Book throughout the academic year. The First Year Seminar serves as one mechanism to engage students in discussions and programming related to the book. Peer Mentors connected to each First Year Seminar section have read and are trained to facilitate discussions related to the Common Book.  Peer Mentors also help connect students to co-curricular programs offered throughout the year.

Author Visit
A focal point of the Thomas Academic Excellence Series is the visit by the Common Book author. The author speaks to the entire campus at a convocation, usually in October, followed by a book signing. Many authors have visited individual classes. Each year, students in Theatre 1000 interpret the Common Book’s issues through a series of playlets.

How is the Common Book Selected?

A committee of faculty, staff, and students select from over fifty books each year in an effort to find a significant contemporary work to read the next year. Members of the committee meet weekly to discuss the books nominated for the next Common Book, and then continue to meet to prepare the introduction of the book to the campus community.

If you enjoy reading and are interested in joining the committee, contact Colette Masterson, Co-Chair of the Common Book Committee, at (614) 823-3205. Interested in submitting a book for consideration? Please complete this online form to tell us more about the book you would like us to review.

Common Book Selection Criteria:

  • It encourages scholastic intellectual development for new students.
  • It is compatible with Otterbein’s mission.
  • It is appropriate for a wide variety of disciplines and classes.
  • It is by a significant contemporary author who can visit campus.
  • It is not a book read in high school.
  • It is challenging but not overwhelming to entering first-year students.
  • It provides potential for hands-on experiences or service learning.
  • It will sustain discussion for a year.

Common Book Assignment

Otterbein’s Common Book Program creates a shared experience for the campus community, but especially for incoming students. All new students will receive a copy of the 2023 Common Book for free. You can pick it up on orientation day or once classes start from Student Success and Career Development in 027 Towers Hall.

After you read the book, complete the Common Book assignment and be ready to turn it in to your FYS class.

Past Common Books

Year Book
2022-2023 Mona Hanna Attisha
What The Eyes Don’t See
2021-2022 Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling
2020-2021 Sam Quinones
2019-2020 Maria Toorpakai
A Different Kind of Daughter
2018-2019 Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad
2017-2018 Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy
2016-2017 Kristen Iverson
Full Body Burden
2015-2016 Jeanne Marie Laskas
Hidden America
2014-2015 Naomi Benaron
Running the Rift
2013-2014 Conor Grennan
Little Princes 
2012-2013 Rebecca Skloot
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
2011-2012 Tom Piazza
City of Refuge
2010-2011 Warren St. John
Outcasts United
2009-2010 Ann Pancake
Strange as This Weather Has Been
2008-2009 Ishmael Beah
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
2007-2008 Helena María Viramontes
Under the Feet of Jesus
2006-2007 Martin Goldsmith
The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany
2005-2006 Tracy Kidder
Mountains Beyond Mountains
2004-2005 Mark Hertsgaard
The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World
2003-2004 Anthony Grooms
2002-2003 Ruth L. Ozeki
My Year of Meats
2001-2002 Mary Doria Russell
The Sparrow
2000-2001 Helen Fremont
After Long Silence
1999-2000 Alex Kotlowitz
There Are No Children Here
1998-1999 Sharyn McCrumb
She Walks These Hills
1997-1998 Scott Russell Sanders
The Paradise of Bombs
1996-1997 Gus Lee
China Boy
1995-1996 Anna Deavere Smith
Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities

“I am thankful that Otterbein hosts a program like the Common Book. I can already see a change in my analyzing skills from various classes this semester, but also, it was great to see an author speak about his book. This checked off something on my bucket list.”

Abbey Neisel '22