Past Books

During CUSTOMS, all incoming freshman students receive packets that include a Summer Reading Guide, information about the author, and a list of course sections using the book selection for the Fall. In its first year, over 100 different course sections from three different academic colleges participated, along with six reading groups from the local community.



Life Is in the Transitions, by Bruce Feiler,  is a collection of stories from Feiler's timely travels cross country, where he encountered people who had experienced recent major life changes. He felt compelled to investigate society's impact on our life stories after experiencing a personal crisis himself. Feiler explores a central theme surrounding the idea that the world has increasingly presented more frequent transitions, resulting in a griping need for masterful responses.






Walking to Listen, by Andrew Forsthoefel, is a travel memoir about a year spent walking across the highways of the United States after graduation from Middlebury College in 2011. It was a year of radical vulnerability and remarkable connection, with people across the vast and varied spectrum of American humanity. The book tells the stories of these encounters. It is a documentation of what’s possible with the ability and willingness to listen.

Walking to Listen


The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore presents the true story of two young men, born just blocks from each other, who share the same name, a difficult childhood, and troublee with the law. 

Though they share many similarities in their early lives, one Wes Moore becomes a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, and successful business leader, while the other Wes Moore is serving a life senetence in jail for murder. Alternating between the stories of these two men, The Other Wes Moore explores the unique circumstances and personal decisions that culminated in the two very different outcomes. 

The Other Wes Moore


What the Eyes Don’t See; A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, by Mona Hanna-Attisha is a riveting, beautifully rendered account of a shameful lead poisoning disaster that became a tale of hope. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Flint, Michigan’s public hospital, tells the story of a city on the ropes that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their and all of our children. The author, invited by the Distinguished Lecture Committee, spoke at the virtual 2020 University Convocation on August 22, 2020.


What the Eyes Dont See Cover


Educated, by Tara Westover. The author, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Educated book cover


Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson is the story of a young lawyer fighting on the frontline of a country in thrall to extreme punishments and careless justice. It is an inspiring story of unbreakable humanity in the most desperate circumstances and a powerful indictment of our broken justice system and the twisted values that allow it to continue. 

2018 Book Selection


Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis--that of white working-class Americans. J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

 2017 Book Cover


For Love of Country, by Howard Schultz and Rajic Chandrasekaran. The authors honor acts of uncommon valor in Iraq and Afghanistan and recount their vital contributions upon returning home. These powerful stories demonstrate just how indebted we are to those who protect us and what they have to offer our nation when their military service is done.



This I Believe II: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, edited by Jay Allison, was our 2015 selection. This book is the second installment based on the National Public Radio Series of the same name, This I Believe, and features seventy-five essayists-from the famous to the unknown– completing the thought that begins the book’s title.



Based on the popular National Public Radio series of the same name, This I Believe features eighty different statements of individual principles from the famous and unknown alike. Each essay candidly and compellingly completes the thought that begins this book’s title. This I Believe presents the hearts and minds of a diverse group of people, both past and present, whose beliefs reveal the American spirit at its best.



A Question of Freedom chronicle author Dwayne Betts' years in prison, as he reflects on his crime and how it would or would not define him.  It is a about a quest for identity, one that guarantees a young man's survival in a hostile environment.



A Pearl in the Storm, written by Tori Murden McClure, is about failure and recovery. It is about storms that twist our lives and shatter our dreams. It is about the pearls: the guides, the guardians, and the mentors who lift us up after we fall.



Listening is an Act of Love is made up of 2-3 page transcripts selected from more than ten thousand interviews captured by the Story-Corps project. Story-Corps, founded by Dave Isay, is the United States largest oral history project, presenting our nation's history told by the people who lived that history. There is a connection to each and every discipline contained in the stories presented. They are organized into the following themes: Home and family; work and dedication, journeys; history and struggle, and fire and water (The stories of 9/11 and Katrina).


Outcasts United by Warren St. John is a national bestseller chronicles the impromptu social experiment created when a small southern town became a center for refugee relocation and one woman's attempt to change lives through soccer. It has much to teach us about how to live in an age of globalization when our neighbors may not look like or live like we do.


How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else is a memoir by Michael Gates Gill which chronicles his journey from a high-level advertising executive with J. Walter Thompson to a barista at Starbucks.


Three Cups of Tea is one mountaineer's (Greg Mortenson) story on how after trying and failing to climb K2, he came upon a destitute Pakistan village in the Karakoram Mountains. Motivated by the people's benevolences, he made a commitment to return and erect a school. Three Cups of Tea is the account of one man fulfilling a promise made to an indigenous people and its remarkable result.


The book selection for 2007 was An Ordinary Man, by Paul Rusesabagina. The Distinguished Lecture Committee brought the author to campus to speak at Convocation and to attend the President's luncheon on Sunday, August 26, 2007. On Saturday, August 25, 2007, Rusesabagina attended a book signing at Linebaugh Library and also spoke to community book clubs who were reading the book. Ruesesabagina also attended one of MTSU's classes.


The book selection for 2006 was Fat Land , by Greg Critser. The Distinguished Lecture Committee brought the author to campus to speak at Convocation and to attend the President's luncheon on Sunday, August 27, 2006. On Saturday, August 26, 2006, Critser attended a book signing at Linebaugh Library and also spoke to community book clubs who were reading the book. Critser also visited one of MTSU's classes to discuss how our society's eating habits have changed.



The book chosen for 2005 was Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. The Distinguished Lecture Committee brought the author to campus to speak at Convocation and attend the President's luncheon on Sunday, August 28, 2005.


The book of choice for 2004 was Naked in Baghdad , written by a National Public Radio's senior foreign correspondent, Anne Garrels. The Distinguished Lecture Committee once again brought the author to campus to speak at Convocation on Sunday, August 29, 2004.


The book selection for 2003 was All Over but the Shoutin' , written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Rick Bragg. The Distinguished Lecture Committee brought the author to campus to speak at the University Convocation on August 17, 2003.


The book selection for 2002 was The Color of Water written by James McBride.