Common Reading

Introductions to the Readings

  • The Mystery of Risk, Peter Gwin 
  • from Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
  • Death and Anger on Everest, Jon Krakauer
  • Castles in the Air, Emily Nussbaum 
  • from Bus America: Revelation of a Redneck, Quay Hanna
  • Letter from Mecca, Malcolm X
  • New York Day Women, Edwidge Danticat
  • Culture of Defiance: Banal Politics, Shahram Khosravi
  • Excuse Us While We Kiss the Sky, Matthew Power
  • Sky Walk-Sky Trek: A Successful Community Project in the Mountains of Monteverde, Ana L. Báez
  • from The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
  • from The Solitude of Self, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Searching for Great Adventures, Tony Rothman 
  • Susquehanna University Learning Goals, SU Faculty, Staff and Students


      The Mystery of Risk, Peter Gwin

      In this essay, author Peter Gwin discusses some of the characteristics and accomplishments of the people who established the National Geographic Society. After delving into some historical roots of these astounding risk takers, the author taps into recent scientific research that analyzes the notion that humans evolved from extraordinary risk takers. Do you agree with the author that humans are all descended from risk takers? Why or why not?

      While not everyone has the same proclivity to engage in activities that could have dire consequences, some people are readily willing to engage in activities that put their reputation, fortune and life in significant danger. Differences in the acceptability of riskiness lie in the differences in activity of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the reward pathways in the brain that affect motivation. More dopamine equals greater reward, which translates into higher motivation to repeat a given "risky" behavior. Gwin points out that the willingness to take risks is not the same as thrill seeking or compulsive behaviors like gambling. What do you think the difference is between behaviors that have a higher level of perceived risk and compulsive or addictive behaviors?

      The author proposes that all humans have the ability to acclimate to risk as novel, challenging activities become more, "routine and familiar." Did any of your current activities initially seem to have a high level of risk but now seem ordinary and safe? Do you think that you are a person who is likely to engage in behaviors that carry a high level of risk? How can you tell when engaging in "risky behavior" has become a problem for you or those around you?

    • ~Introduction by Erin Keen-Rhinehart, Associate Professor of Biology


      Into Thin Air and Death and Anger on Everest, Jon Krakauer

      I looked over the site of the Everest base camp on the Khumbu glacier and I could easily make out the top of the Lhotse Face, the South Col, the South Summit, the Hillary Step and the summit itself at 29,028 feet. My students and I were on top of Kala Patthar in Nepal, a relatively small hill 18,540 feet above sea level, breathing air with only half of the oxygen molecules available at sea level. Climbers on Everest would have to make do with less than a third! In the clear blue skies of December, it all looked so calm, though the occasional flurry of ice being blown off the ridge indicated the strength of the jet stream 10,000 feet above me. At this time of year, it was too cold and dangerous for the expeditions; they start to arrive in late March to catch the window between the brutal cold of winter and the onset of the monsoon season in June.

      In his book Into Thin Air, author Jon Krakauer gave the first of a number of published accounts of the disaster that unfolded on May 10, 1996, as an early season storm hit several groups of climbers descending the summit ridge. By the end of May 11th, eight climbers had perished, five on the Nepali side and three others from an Indian expedition on the Tibetan north side of the mountain.

      A total of fifteen people died on Everest in 1996. Their names, plus the names of approximately two hundred more lost over the years, are engraved on the monument at the Himalayan Rescue Association clinic in Pheriche. Tragically, since I last trekked to the base camp in January 2014, sixteen Sherpas and guides died in an avalanche as they were ferrying supplies through the Khumbu Icefall between the base camp and the Western Cwm. This is a dangerous place. Why do so many climbers, some experienced and others with money and a thirst for adventure, risk life and limb for a chance to stand on the summit?

      In 1924, the English climber George Mallory and his young companion Sandy Irvine were last seen on the northeast ridge heading upwards at about 27,000'. They did not return and in 1999, Mallory's body was found where he had fallen and died. His camera was not found so the question of whether they had reached the summit remains open, but the 1953 summit by Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay was the first documented ascent. Mallory, a schoolteacher, is best known for his response to the question "Why do you climb Everest?" His reply: "Because it is there." He is perhaps less well known for his answer to the more specific question, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?"

      His response: "It is no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in [us] which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go."

      He was clearly extolling the value of adventure for its own sake, the pursuit of the fruitless and futile for the sheer pleasure of living life "upward and forever upward." Even in his darker moments of reflection and guilt, Jon Krakauer understood this, and standing on top of Kala Patthar, I understood it too.

      ~Introduction by Dave Richard, Professor of Biology and Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences


      Castles in the Air, Emily Nussbaum

      “Aaadventure time!”

      Passionately shouted by Finn the human to his best friend Jake the dog, this catchphrase rings with whimsical heroism and adolescent audacity, signaling the start of a new endeavor for the dynamic duo in their post-apocalyptic world. These daily quests and antics are depicted in Cartoon Network's animated series Adventure Time. 

      In the article, "Castles in the Air," author Emily Nussbaum offers a unique perspective on the silly children's comedy. While acknowledging and commending the show's sense of light-hearted pubescent humor, Nussbaum also notes that Adventure Time thrums with existential themes and poignant insights, probing readers to question why the label "adventure" makes new experiences seem more exciting and less scary. 

      Perhaps one of the article's most intriguing aspects is the author's confession of her reluctance to watch Adventure Time based on her preconceived perception of the show's supposed inanity. Yet, by the piece's conclusion, Nussbaum urges readers to watch the cartoon and realize its "beautiful and funny and stupid and smart" characteristics for themselves.

      While reading this article, consider how your perspectives change when you approach familiar territory, perhaps a cartoon, or a game, or a social gathering, with an intellectual angle. How does a new critical lens change our experiences?

      ~Introduction by Jillian Mannarino, Creative Writing and Publishing & Editing double major, Honors minor, Class of 2018


      Bus America: Revelation of a Redneck, Quay Hanna

      I know most of the time people skip the preface, but you really need to read this. A lot has changed since the first edition of Bus America: Revelation of a Redneck.

      When I took this bus trip I was twenty-three years old, freshly graduated from college, and bitter at the world. As I traveled, I realized the significance of my life and nothing has been the same since. A life of self examination has been so much better for me than just trudging through the daily routine that I wanted to share my experience with those who may never have the opportunity to take such a trip. That's why I wrote this book. 

      When I published my tome in 1997, I didn't think much would happen. Maybe I would sell a few to friends and family members, but then I would have to decide what to do with the remaining 1,047 copies of the book that would haunt my closet. I never believed it would be necessary to write a preface to the second edition. But here I sit, almost nine years later, trying to explain things I never thought I would have to explain. 

      Soon after the book's publication, local schools invited me to speak about my life-changing experiences. Each time I spoke, I remembered the countless boring guest speakers we had in high school and I strived to not become one. I attempted many an outrageous way to make my point, and it seemed to work. Young people responded well, and I found myself doing full assemblies in auditoriums, as well as acting as a professional consultant in schools suffering racial difficulties. In the past nine years, I've done over 800 presentations around the country and have helped more than a dozen schools recover from full blown racial crises. Not bad for a hick from Strasburg, Pennsylvania, huh?

      My career certainly hasn't been without criticism. The difficulty with a topic like racism is that no matter what you say, someone will be offended. Most people, however, see that my passion is genuine, and that my objectives are simple-love your neighbor as yourself, think before you speak and act, reflect on another's position before determining your own. When we think about our lives, we are more likely to think about the lives of others.

      I have been criticized for some of the things you are going to read in this book: the way I often referred to women, the constant cracks against overweight people, the derogatory way I judged many bus riders. Please remember, I was twenty-three years old when I began this journey. I was seeing America for the first time. I didn't correct all my flaws during the nine weeks of this trip, but God certainly began a new work in my life by changing my views to His will. But I felt it prudent to give an accurate portrayal of who I was when I left my hometown, during the journey, and at the end of the journey.

      Another difference in this edition is that the profanity has been replaced with the innocuous "@#$%&." For those of you that find this cheesy, that's OK. I do, too. But I am a speaker in public schools and market to school libraries, I don't want taxpayers to get the wrong idea about my objectives. If profanity in this book keeps me from sharing my message, it is not worth it. Besides, the symbols allow you to substitute as mild or as foul a word as you want. Knock yourself out!

      I want to thank the many people who supported me since the beginning and who have stuck with me through this second edition. I am one of the few people in the world who can say they love their jobs, and would choose it again if given the opportunity. That's all I ever wanted to accomplish.

      ~Preface by Quay Hanna, Author of Bus America: Revelation of a Redneck


      Letter from Mecca, Malcolm X

      Malcolm Little was born poor in Nebraska in 1925. He dropped out of middle school and spent his youth in Boston and New York, living as a criminal. Imprisoned in 1946, he spent the next six years in jail, reading all he could to educate himself, forming a relationship with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, and becoming Malcolm X. As one of the most prominent ministers of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X spoke from his experiences of racism and oppression, calling all white people "devils" and saying all black people should defend themselves "by any means necessary," with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being a "chump" for advocating non-violence. He was killed just shy of his 40th birthday, leaving behind a young widow and six children. 

      Malcolm X was a radical. Malcolm X knew the truth. Malcolm X interpreted the truths of his world and preached adamantly about his views to hundreds of thousands of people for years. Then he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. And Malcolm X changed his mind. His travels across the world and his encounters with other Muslims made him question and ultimately reject some of his deepest held beliefs. That is what adventure can and should do, challenge our deepest beliefs and give us the space away from ourselves wherein we can come to new conclusions. How can we get the most personal openness out of adventures, even when we bring our own baggage with us? And what is it about non-adventure-our everyday lives-that makes the changing of attitudes so difficult? 

      ~Introduction by Kate Palley, Director of Jewish life


      New York Day Women, Edwidge Danticat

      The adventure in "New York Day Women" may not be obvious at first glance. A Haitian-American advertising professional on her lunch break is surprised to spot her mother on the streets of Manhattan. It turns out her mother is a "day woman," who takes care of rich kids for short spells, such as when a wealthy mother wants to go for a run in Central Park. The clue to the story's adventure is in the interspersed questions, which are typical interrogations this mother offers her daughter. They reveal a first-generation immigrant scared of eating at other people's houses, of leaving Brooklyn, and even of returning home to Haiti for her sisters' funerals. Yet today this "day woman" seems utterly in her element, enjoying the city, trying exotic foods such as hot dogs, and bringing joy to her young charge by handing him a soda with a straw in it. 

      As you read this, try to notice: How does this daughter feel, exactly, about her mother? Do the narrator's feelings change over the course of this lunch hour? How does this narrative invert more familiar travel stories? For example, in an adventure story involving Haiti and New York, would you expect the protagonist to see Haiti as the "normal" place and Manhattan as the exotic, exciting, and scary locale? Why? What do postcolonial stories like this teach you about how you have been trained to see the world? 

      ~Introduction by Glen Retief, Director, Writer's Institute


      Culture of Defiance: Banal Politics, Shahram Khosravi

      Iran has a long history of statehood, and a diverse and young population. Present conceptualizations of Iran and Iranian society often portray this culture simply as a theocratic, repressive regime, but do not necessarily consider the multiple "sites of defiance" Khosravi describes in his manuscript. Like any other country, Iran hosts many individuals and places in defiance to the Iranian government and its policies.

      Expressing political preferences, especially in opposition to majority-held norms, can be adventurous. Shahran's discussion illustrates the ways Tehrani youth explore sexuality, find humor, and criticize Iranian politics and society. Although hiking to nearby Mount Alborz for "illegal" and "immoral" activities may sound more adventurous to a Western reader, a coffee shop conversation of non-political aspirations can be equally daring when the Iranian "moral police" punish activities that do not comply with the regime's preferences. 

      While you read, think about politics as adventure: when, and how, do politics become adventurous? Do you expect any differences between democracies and non-democracies?

      ~Introduction by Baris Kesgin, Assistant Professor of Political Science


      Excuse Us While We Kiss the Sky, Matthew Power

      Urbex, place hacking, and space invasion? First response: Don't try this at home. 

      In "Excuse Us While We Kiss the Sky," Matthew Power presents Urbex as trespassing on a grand scale, and casts it as a victimless crime adventure: overcoming fear, exercising derring-do, and thwarting existing systems of security-what's not to like? 
      Quite honestly, the  questions of legality in this practice interest me less than the idea that "place hacking" exposes an analogue city, a shadow that reflects the structures above or below. Power suggests the goal of Urbex is 'to rediscover, reappropriate, and reimagine the urban landscape." 

      It provides a way to think about urban space as not only what is visible, but also is what is unseen (but vital, like the sewers or ongoing construction sites of London), a mix of the in-use, the ancient, and the incomplete. Here the known environment is "hacked," peeled back to expose layers laid open for exploration, an exploration in no small part informed by fear-fear of discovery and the danger of accessing dangerous space. No matter what you might say about this kind of space invasion, one way to understand it is that it turns the taken-for-granted relationships of access and public traffic and turns them on their heads. It encourages us, perhaps, to rethink the ways we understand the city as "seen" and to recognize it as a site for multiple interventions and engagements.

      ~Introduction by John Bodinger,  Professor of Anthropological Studies


      Sky Walk-Sky Trek,  Ana L. Báez

      You know that screensaver photo of a wooden boat with big ribbons tied on the bow sitting on a white sand beach surrounded by turquoise water? I used to live there-Phuket, Thailand. As a midwesterner, where tourism is nonexistent, I had not experienced life in a full-on tourist destination until I lived in Phuket. Living in paradise is amazing, but when one just lives in such a place, one starts to notice uglier sides of tourism. I have seen all sorts of tourists-the ugly American, the creepy sex tourist, the angry entitled tourist who browbeats locals, the tourist that wants to save locals from themselves-the list goes on. While on holiday, tourist seem to indulge in behaviors unacceptable at home. Tourists are problematic. 

      This article about the Sky Walk-Sky Trek project in Costa Rica leaves me conflicted. I am impressed that this project was developed to some degree involving the indigenous community and emphasis was placed on the environmental impacts of developing the project, but I still wonder what cultural implications a project like this has on a remote rural area. This article focuses on the benefits of developing ecotourism programs. Is it possible ecotourism does more damage by encouraging people to visit remote areas? Is ecotourism a good thing? Do tourist destinations help or hinder cultural longevity of indigenous populations? How will your adventure impact your life and the lives of those you encounter? Will you engage in their culture or impose your own? What kind of traveler will you be? 

      ~Introduction by Susie Morris, Manager of Faculty Led Programs


      The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain

      Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), writing as Mark Twain, was best known as a folksy humorist and political satirist. However, this selection from The Innocents Abroad was composed early in his career as a newspaper journalist when his employer paid his way on a trip to Europe and the Holy Land. 

      Although Clemens had traveled throughout the United States and even Hawaii, he was not formally educated and had not had the experience of a European tour, which was the customary culmination of a college education for privileged young white men of his era. Thus, he purports to be an "innocent" in the ways of the wide world and serves as the eyes, ears, nose, and belly of the delighted readers back home. He wrote in an era before color photography, before film, and obviously before the Internet, and his descriptions of his journey were the closest that the vast majority of his readers would come to experiencing foreign travel for themselves. 

      What would it be like to immerse yourself in a new culture while completely free of preconceptions and inhibitions? Was Clemens truly innocent, or did he bring a value system to what he experienced? Given the availability of resources like Google Earth, the National Geographic, and Instagram, will any of us ever be innocents abroad again?

      ~Introduction by Catherine Hastings, Professor of Communications and a Coordinator of the Film Institute


      The Solitude of Self, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

      Written in 1892, "The Solitude of Self" advocates for women's rights as individuals. American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton focuses on the idea of a woman being educated well enough "to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness" in "the voyage of life alone." Stanton invites society to raise each girl in a way that positions her to flourish on her own. She reminds us that the unique individual self enters and exits the world on his or her own and that everything that happens in between happens to a unique person on his or her own. Women and men alike must be fitted with everything one needs to navigate through life's adventurous course. 

      As you read, ask yourself what you think Stanton means when she frequently refers to the "solitude" of self. She doesn't have in mind an individual without any friends or family. Why then would Stanton emphasize that all individuals stand alone? Also, consider why Stanton thinks it is so important that women should not be taught to mistrust themselves in favor of trusting others. Finally, Stanton believes that an active, educated mind enables graceful aging. Reflect on why experts say a liberal arts education (the one you're embarking on here at SU) is the one that most readily leads students to become lifelong learners. 

      ~Introduction by Coleen Zoller, Associate Professor of Philosophy


      Searching for Great Adventures, Tony Rothman

      Though most students experience science as a body of known facts to be committed to memory, scientists view science quite differently. Scientists are dedicated to uncovering a deeper understanding of how the world works. Whether a physicist, biologist, or chemist, scientists spend their careers working to better "know" just a small fraction of the vast unknown. In this exploration of the unknown, there is opportunity for scientists to map out unchartered territory-to embark on a great intellectual adventure. If the work of scientists captures the imagination of the public, there is opportunity for them to travel through this unchartered territory alongside the scientists.

      In "Searching for Adventure," physicist Tony Rothman examines the sense of inspiration and adventure that accompanies a great scientific journey. Space exploration-and the inherent sense of adventure that comes with it-captured Rothman's imagination as a young child. Here Rothman explores the intersection of science, fantasy and politics. These three often intersect in Congress where projects compete for funding. As you read, consider whether scientific research must have a foreseeable, practical outcome in order to receive funding. This question lies at the heart of Rothman's essay. Rothman writes, "Some science always pays off in the long run, but most doesn't, and the trouble is that one can never predict which discovery will change civilization." If we only provide financial support for research that has a clear practical application, how much will we limit the type of intellectual adventures we experience, and how much will we never discover about the workings of the natural world?

      ~Introduction by Alissa Packer, Associate Professor of Biology

      Susquehanna University Learning Goals, SU Faculty, Staff, and Students

      What does it mean to be educated at SU? Several years ago, the faculty and staff of Susquehanna attempted to answer this question. Each faculty and staff member was asked, “When students cross the stage at graduation, what do you most hope stays with them from their experience at SU?” This conversation was followed by a year-long discussion and debate, and through this process the SU Learning Goals (SULG) were created.

      The SULG form the foundation of all that we hope to accomplish with students. The Central Curriculum, each major and minor program, and everything that happens in classrooms, studios and labs flow out of these Goals. But their influence does not end at the classroom door. The SULG also animate the structure of residential life, the activities of clubs and organizations, and the work and play within athletics. Indeed, each administrative office has found ways to use these Goals in their work with students.

      Will all SU graduates achieve the SULG? That is our commitment and the yardstick against which we measure our success. However, we can only guarantee that all students will have the opportunity to achieve these Goals. Education is not a one way process. We cannot open up students’ heads and pore in the content. Education is an invitation—will you make these goals your own?

      ~Introduction by Linda A. McMillin, Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Professor of History


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