In 2011, “60 Minutes” and journalist Jon Krakauer revealed that Mr. Mortenson had fabricated or exaggerated incidents in the book, and colleges quickly turned their backs on him.
Even titles barely older than a high school sophomore have fallen out of favor. “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s secret 2001 account of working and living in minimum-wage America, seems as relevant today as it was. was when it was first published. But after a good run in its first decade, few colleges award it now.
Most colleges choose recent, accessible books to ensure freshmen actually read them, said Keith Goldsmith, executive director of academic marketing at Knopf Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House. After all, except in cases where reading is tied to a freshman course or a required writing assignment, students juggling summer jobs and summer adventures are free to skip those books.
“It’s got to be a book that’s going to engage them from the get-go,” Goldsmith said. “The classics can do it, but it’s often difficult. These books require a bit more training and guidance.
Read a book, not your phone
Among the universities that award books from the Western canon, a popular choice is Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” one of many selections that warn students that there can be a dark side to invention and technology.
Freshmen at Gustavus Adolphus College, a Minnesota Lutheran-affiliated school, are among those reading the novel this summer. In the fall, they will take part in a campus-wide exploration ethical issues raised by bioengineering such as genome editing, genetic testing and cloning.
Several other commonly awarded titles reflect anxiety about the internet and gaming. These include “The Circle,” a novel by Dave Eggers about a young woman drawn into the harmful practices of the global tech company she works for (chosen by Auburn University and Ohio Northern University, between others); “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, journalist Jon Ronson’s point of view on social networks (Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Ramapo College in New Jersey); and “Ready Player One,” a science fiction novel by Ernest Cline in which a teenager confronts real-world social inequalities embedded in a utopian virtual reality game (Washington State).