University of South Carolina

David Habbick reads
David Habbick reads "The Postmortal" at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

20 years of reading: USC program hits milestone

By Megan Sexton,, 803-777-1421

The tweets started popping up earlier this summer, as University of South Carolina incoming freshmen began reading Drew Magary’s thriller “The Postmortal.”

A sampling of the Twitter posts:

“Just finished reading The Postmortal and I must say it’s the most compelling and thought provoking novel I have ever read.”

“Postmortal was so good I read the whole thing on my plane ride back from South Africa.”

“This is the first assigned summer reading I’ve gotten that I actually enjoy.”

The reaction is welcome news to USC leaders who organize the First-Year Reading Experience each year. This is the 20th year new Carolina students will begin the school year with a common academic experience – a book read during the summer followed by a gathering of the entire first-year class and discussion groups the Monday before classes begin.

“I have to tell you, I’ve never seen a stronger response from students to the book,” said Helen Doerpinghaus, vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies. “Students don’t happily read books any more. They read computer screens and blogs. So it’s really great that they’re reading and enjoying it.”

Along with reading the book and discussing it with peers and faculty, the students will get a chance to hear from the author Aug. 19, when Magary comes to Columbia to discuss his work with the freshmen. “The Postmortal” is a thriller that envisions a near future where a cure for aging is discovered and available to people worldwide.

“The themes it raises are themes that are wonderful for students in transition to consider,” Doerpinghaus said. “What do I want out of my life? What role does work, religion and marriage have? What does it mean if you get married and it could be truly eternal? What’s the best phase of life? When would I get the cure? What is the role of healthcare in society? What are friends and family for?”

And because of the reach of social media, students are connecting with their classmates and sharing ideas about the book before they even step foot on campus.

“It’s interesting to see how they are interacting with literature and each other in ways that would not have been possible even a couple years ago,” said Mary Elizabeth Sewell, associate director for University 101. “This year, there has been a tremendous conversation happening on Twitter. It’s been fascinating to watch. Students are posting their thoughts on Twitter as they read it. Their response has gotten me excited.”

Sewell said she expected this book would be popular with students, since it’s written in short chapters, almost like a blog.

“I know it will be a great discussion Monday. There’s already chatter going on,” she said.

Also this year, a video to celebrate the 20th year of the reading experience, starring Cocky and showing the books that have been read over the years, will be shown to students at the Monday morning session in the Carolina Coliseum.

USC was one of the early adopters of the first-year reading experience among large research institutions, said Stuart Hunter, associate vice president and executive director of University 101 programs. Carolina’s program includes a poster contest (with the student-designed work used this year as the book’s cover) and a collaboration with University Libraries, which features a display related to the book or its author.

“There has certainly been a wonderful response from the students. In talking with U101 orientation leaders, they all loved the book and had developed discussion questions,” she said. “They’ve even talked about who would play which character in the film.”

Posted: 08/14/13 @ 4:00 PM | Updated: 08/19/13 @ 2:18 PM | Permalink

First-Year Reading Experience

  • This is the 20th year incoming freshmen will gather at the start of the school year to discuss the book each has read over the summer.


    The program started with 300 Honors College students, but eventually opened to all first-year students.



    A committee of students, professors and professional staff meet to choose the book.


    Criteria: Is the book good literature? Is it still in print? Does it have themes of interest for college students?



    All incoming first-year students receive the book at orientation and each is assigned to a discussion group.


    Students and USC faculty and staff will gather with the book’s author Monday, Aug. 19, at the Carolina Coliseum to discuss the book. They will then break into small discussion groups to discuss their reactions to the book.




     20 years of books


    Here are the books that have been read as part of USC’s First-Year Reading Experience


    2013 – “The Postmortal” by Drew Magary


    2012 -- “Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem


    2011 – “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan


    2010 – “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer


    2009 – “The Complete Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi


    2008 – “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro


    2007 – “When the Emperor was Divine” by Julie Otsuka


    2006 – “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder


    2005 – “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon


    2004 – “Due Preparations for the Plague” by Janette Turner Hospital


    2003 – “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller


    2002 – “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger


    2001 – “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury


    2000 – “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara


    1999 – “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway


    1998 – “Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?” by Lorrie Moore


    1997 – “The Bear” by William Faulkner


    1996 – “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald


    1995 – “Rich in Love” by Josephine Humphreys


    1994 – “The Water Is Wide” by Pat Conroy




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