Common Readers
FTS 100-091
MTWF 9:00-9:50, Vickner Hall 204
Instructor: Barbara Fister
Office: Library 204
Phone: x7553
E-mail:; IM: bfistermn
Office hours: Mondays, 1:30-2:30; Fridays, 2:30-3:30; available by appointment at other times. I will also be in the library at the reference desk almost every Thursday evening from 6:00-10:00 pm.
The common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinion of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends, he can come by, some kind of whole . . ."

Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, 1925

course description

core components

your role in this course

assignments and grading

required books and supplies

the Writing Center

preliminary schedule

Course description
Word version of the syllabus

This seminar introduces students to critical thinking and a discussion of values, and develops oral and written communication skills, through an investigation of reading as a personal pursuit and as a social activity. Why do we read? What do we enjoy reading most, and why? How do various kinds of texts serve their readers? Students will examine their own reading preferences, investigate literacy as an aspect of culture, and will explore how different forms of writing serve various purposes. As a community of readers, this class will publish a course blog, choose reading material to share, and will develop an online reader's guide to one of the required books.

That's the official word. What is this course really about?

I am fascinated by the ways people read and the role reading plays in their lives. The ways ordinary people talk about the books they read for pleasure (what scholars often call "popular literacy") differs from the ways scholars talk about books and reading. Why are those reading practices different? What values and expectations underlie those experiences? Can we read our favorite books critically? Can reading difficult books be fun? This course will give you an opportunity to think about what you like to read and why, share your thoughts about what you are reading, practice reading in various genres and for different purposes, and explore the role reading plays in society.

Core components

This course will also introduce five core activities that are part of every FTS - and your entire college career.

Critical thinking: we will think critically about what we read and will think about what it means to read critically. ("Critical" doesn't mean being negative - it simply means being thoughtful and curious about how things work.) We will also think critically about issues related to literacy, reading, writing, and publishing.

Writing: we will write every day and will write for different audiences and different purposes. We will think about how the things we read were written. We will examine the steps professional writers take when they write: plan, research, draft, revise, check facts, rewrite, get other readers' feedback, and revise again prior to publication. You will do all of these things, too.

Speaking: we will work on two kinds of speaking that are important not just in college but in your life-long role as a citizen. As we discuss books and ideas, we'll practice what it takes to have a good discussion: to prepare ahead of time, to listen to one another carefully, to pick up on others' ideas and develop them further, and to disagree both passionately and cordially. The second kind of speaking is one that makes many people nervous: speaking in public. All of us need to know a few basic tricks that will help us do this well, because sometimes what we have to say really matters and we want our words to be heard.

Values: A lot of the assignments in this class will ask you to explore the value of reading - as an individual and as a society. By the end of the course we all should have a clear idea of what we each value as a reader and why. We also will have explored the value of books and reading, of a free press, of free speech, and of access to information, as well as grappling with issues associated with copyright, intellectual honesty, and the impact of technology on reading and writing.

Academic Mentoring: I will be your academic advisor in your first year, so we will spend some time during this first semester "reading" college culture and learning how Gustavus works. We will also spend one-on-one time planning for the next semester and beyond, as well as dealing with the inevitable questions and issues that arise as you get used to being a college student. You'll have a lot of questions. As librarians often say, "I may not know the answer, but I know how to look it up." I'll even show you how to look it up for yourself. When the time comes to choose a major, you'll get a new mentor who will be able to guide the rest of your journey. Some of you may feel awkward or shy talking to professors at first; we'll practice until you're comfortable with it, because the conversations you'll have with professors can be a wonderfully rich part of your life as a college student.

Your role in this course

I have several general expectations of you.

  • I expect you to read a lot. We'll read two assigned books, two or more books of your choice, and a book that we choose together. I hope you will have read the common reading in advance, Honky by Dalton Conley so we can discuss it, too. We will also read several assigned articles and other readings, and we'll get in the habit of reading a daily newspaper. I will give you several ways to respond to your reading in writing. Keep all of these responses for your portfolio.
  • You will do a lot of writing for this course. Various assignments will call on you to write in different ways for different audiences. Because no professional writer ever considers his or her first draft a finished product, we will work over everything you write many times until you can feel proud of it. Your reading responses, blog entries, essay drafts, and finished products will all be considered in your final grade.
  • This is a discussion course, and all of you are expected to participate in the conversation. That doesn't mean you have to talk even if you have nothing to say. It means arriving prepared, listening carefully, and making contributions without dominating the conversation. If you are shy, we'll work on making you more comfortable speaking up. If you love to talk, we'll work on making you a skilled listener and facilitator. Because many of your college courses, all academic work and, in fact, civic life all depend on effective conversation, it's a skill we will practice daily. We'll also spend time working on speaking in front of others in a more formal way. This is rarely something people enjoy, but being able to put your ideas across in a public venue is important when you need to be heard.
  • I expect you to participate fully, both in class and in preparing for class. Your attendance in class is important not just for you and your grade, but so that your classmates have a worthwhile experience. Likewise, being unprepared will hurt not just you, but the entire class. So, here are some simple ground rules for this course: If you must miss class, tell me as soon as possible and explain why. If you have more than three absences your course grade will be lowered unless you can document to my satisfaction that your absence is truly unavoidable. If any absence is due to participation in a college-sponsored activity, college policy requires the supervising faculty member to provide you with a letter specifying the dates, times, and details of necessary absences for such activities. Whatever the circumstances of your absence, you must make up missed work to my satisfaction.
  • This class is a community, and you must be responsible to this community and aware of how your choices affect the others. A respectful classroom is one in which people generally arrive on time, turn off their cell phones, put away their gadgets, pay attention to one another, and avoid offensive language or nonverbal signals of disrespect, mockery, or boredom. I don't mind if you bring a beverage to class, but please don't multitask by eating breakfast during class. Please eat before you come so that you can concentrate without distracting others. (If you must multitask, read a newspaper while you eat breakfast - but do it before class.)
  • This college has an academic honesty policy. If you knowingly violate it, you will fail this course and your offense will be reported to the Dean's office and could ultimately result in expulsion. Yes, we take it seriously. However, most students make honest mistakes, especially when they're first learning how to write using unfamiliar academic conventions. I will help you understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.
  • I expect you to keep in touch. If you have any questions or issues that are having an impact on your work in this class or in others I'm counting on you to let me know. Likewise, if you have a diagnosed learning disability or any health situation (physical or mental) that might affect your ability to complete assignments, it is your responsibility to let me know about it at the beginning of the semester. You will need a letter from Laurie Bickett in the Academic Advising office to support requests for reasonable accommodation of disabilities.
  • Finally, I expect you to take care of yourself. You will be very busy this semester. Get enough sleep, get regular exercise, and make sure you eat good food. A healthy lifestyle will help your grades far more than stressing out, grabbing snacks instead of eating right, or doing homework or studying for an exam when you should be sleeping.

Assignments and grading

blog contributions, including book reviews - 20%

personal reading essay - 15%

individual contribution to the Reader's Guide to The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo plus group editorial work - 20%

individual and group contribution to information ethics presentation - 20%

overall participation, including complete portfolio of coursework - 25%

Please note: The percentages indicated for assignments is intended to be informative, but is not a menu of options. You cannot pass this course by selecting which assignments you choose to complete. It's a package deal. Failure to submit all assignments in satisfactory form or a pattern of failure to complete readings, attend class, and/or engage in class participation will result in an F for the course. Don't let problems cascade into failure. See me if things are not going well so we can discuss solutions.

Required books and supplies


Francis Spufford The Child that Books Built: A Life in Reading (any edition)

Paula Huntley The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo (any edition)

Andrea Lunsford The Everyday Writer (3rd edition; this is the most expensive of the required books, but is an investment for the next four years. You will find this as useful when you are a senior as you will during this semester.)

Something to write on in class, something to write with, and something in which to save the things you write (a binder or folder).

You will also read two or more additional books of your own choice and one that the class will choose together; I'll help you find free or inexpensive ways to obtain them. We will read several articles and reports as well as each other's writing. You will also be required to pick up and read a print newspaper daily. (Three daily papers are available to students thanks to a Student Senate program.)

The Writing Center

Jessica Barron is one of the many talented writing tutors available at the Writing Center (Confer 232). We're lucky to have her as a designated tutor for this course. She is familiar with your assignments and with my expectations, so will be particularly helpful, but all of the tutors are excellent writers who have been carefully trained to help other students become more effective writers. You may drop in at any time they are open - Sundays from 7-10 p.m., Mondays-Thursdays from 2:30-10 p.m. Or, better yet, make an appointment by calling during those times or requesting an appointment with Jessica via e-mail (

Schedule - dates may shift; those that are firm are marked with an *. In addition to the assignments listed here, you will must post a draft and a finished blog entry at least once a week on your assigned day.

week one what we'll be doing in class read/view/listen for today
Sept. 6* introduction - what we know about reading, what we read syllabus
Sept. 8* using wordpress - finding books in the Gustavus library - meet in library Spufford, ch. 1; Blogger's Code of Ethics
week two
Sept. 11 writing & discussion Spufford, ch. 2
Sept. 12 writing & discussion Spufford, ch. 3
Sept. 13 writing & discussion - bring your choice of newspaper to class Spufford, ch. 4
Sept. 15 collaborative library tour - meet in library Spufford, ch. 5
week three
Sept. 18 draft of reading essay due; peer review of reading essays Huntley
Sept. 19 guest speaker - Steve Bennett Huntley
Sept. 20 writing & discussion **Dalton Conley event, 7p.m., Christ Chapel** Huntley
Sept. 22 writing & discussion; determine contents of the Guide Huntley
week four
Sept. 25 research day - using reference books and databases - meet in library - final draft of reading essay due
Sept. 26 plagiarism and the Gustavus Honor Code
Sept. 27 writing from sources - the basics of documentation
Sept. 29 no class - catch-up day!
week five
Oct. 2 Arnaldur Indridason - first draft of Guide contribution due **Arnaldur Indridason, Interpretive Center, 7 pm** Indridason
Oct. 3* Nobel Conference (pick up the Tuesday issue of The New York Times)
Oct. 4* Nobel Conference
Oct. 6 Science and medical writing - bring Science Tuesday section of the NY Times with you to class Murphy
week six
Oct. 9 using the Web for research - meet in library
Oct. 10 evaluating sources - meet in library YouTube clip on Wikipedia
Oct. 11 swap session - what are you reading? bring a newspaper to discuss
Oct. 13 guest speaker - Sharon Stevenson, designer
week seven
Oct. 16 using interlibrary loan; mining information from sources - meet in library
Oct. 17 fieldwork - explore the campus
Oct. 18 bring in a newspaper for discussion (today's NY Times, Star Tribune, or USA Today) EPIC 2014; Today's Front Pages
Oct. 20 Kosovo swap shop - bring in your sources to share with others
week eight
Oct. 23* Reading Days - no class
Oct. 24* Reading Days - no class
Oct. 25 Guest Speakers - government documents and archives - meet in library
Oct. 27 Take the Lassi - 1st draft of Guide contributions due
week nine
Oct. 30* guest speaker - Jane Lalim, study skills expert - nominations for common reading due today
Oct. 31 Is reading at risk? NEA, pp 1-31 (.pdf pp 14-44); Ross
Nov. 1 why read? **Mark Edmundson Lecture, 7 p.m., Alumni Hall** Edmundson, Yardley
Nov. 3 field trip - career center
week ten
Nov. 6 guest speakers - careers with books
Nov. 7 editorial team reports
Nov. 8 mentoring meetings - no class
Nov. 10 mentoring meetings - no class **An Experiment With an Air Pump, Nov. 9, 10, 11, or 12, Anderson Theatre**
week eleven
Nov. 14 information ethics - issues and controversies - 2nd draft of Guide contibutions due; other teams go to work YouTube clip on Social Networking
Nov. 15 group brainstorming for poster sessions
Nov. 17 field trip - meet in International Education Office
Nov. 20 research day - meet in library
week twelve
Nov. 20 research day - meet in library
Nov. 21 group planning for poster sessions
Nov. 22 design team reports; other teams complete work
Nov. 24* Thanksgiving - no class
week thirteen
Nov. 27 informal panels lead discussion
Nov. 28 informal panels lead discussion
Nov. 29 practice poster presentations - **public poster presentations, 7 pm, library**
Dec. 1 literacy as a social issue Rose
week fourteen
Dec. 4 literacy and gender
Dec. 5 the future of books - discussion Kelly
Dec. 6 do books have edges? - discussion Thompson, Updike
Dec. 8 common reading discussion I
week fifteen
Dec. 11 common reading dicussion II
Dec. 12 bring portfolios to share - draft/outline introductory essays
Dec. 13* final day of class - course- and self-evaluation
complete portfolio with introductory essay due in my office by Dec. 17th, noon.

last updated 12/06