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'Home' is the theme of this year's Three Books program at Stanford

For the first time, the reading program for incoming freshmen and transfer students will feature an online site that gives students an opportunity to start talking about the books before arriving on campus. These discussions will help shape the roundtable conversation with the authors in the fall.

L.A. Cicero Books selected for the 2013 Three Books program

Three Books program faculty moderator Nicholas Jenkins calls this year's selections for incoming students an opportunity to read, to think, to listen and to talk.

Stanford recently mailed three books to freshmen and transfer students: a novel about a baseball star at a small college; a memoir about a family's harrowing times in Cambodia; and a non-fiction look at the incursion of market forces into family life.

The books, which were selected for the 2013 Three Books summer reading program, are:

  • The Art of Fielding: A Novel, by Chad Harbach
  • First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, by Loung Ung
  • The Outsourced Self: What Happens When We Pay Others to Live Our Lives for Us, by Arlie Russell Hochschild

"I chose these books because I really admire and enjoy each of them, and I think you will too," Nicholas Jenkins, an associate professor of English, says in a video posted on the new online course site, titled 2013: Three Books. "Each of them also says something significant from a different angle about the profound theme of home."

Although the Three Books course is running on the OpenEdX platform, Jenkins, who is the faculty moderator of this year's program, said the books aren't an assignment, but an opportunity to read, to think, to listen and to talk.

"In essence, that's what any university, including Stanford, offers," he said in the video. "It's a chance to participate with others in learning about and creating something. So I hope you'll join in. Everybody's contribution is valued."

On Sept. 19, as part of New Student Orientation, Jenkins will moderate a Three Books roundtable talk with the authors.

In the meantime, students are already visiting the site and learning more about the books, their authors and posting thoughts, comments, opinions and discussion questions.

On July 2, students engaged in a live online chat with Jenkins, who led a general discussion on "how to read a book." On July 19, they chatted with Rob Urstein, dean of freshmen at Stanford, about Outsourced Self.

The full text transcripts of both chats are posted online.

"Most importantly, learning is a two-way street, and we want you to have a chance to shape some of the conversation we will all have with Loung Ung, Arlie Russell Hochschild and Chad Harbach on Sept. 19," Jenkins wrote in a three-page letter sent with the books. "So this website will give you the chance to vote up topics and questions that you would like discussed."

Under the "additional resources" page on the website, there are additional materials assembled by Stanford University Libraries, including background information on the Cambodian genocide and a bibliography on outsourcing, as well as reviews of the books and video interviews with the authors.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed learning from all of you today, and I'm especially glad that we've had great participation from all over the world – the United States, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, etc.," Urstein wrote at the end of his session.

The next live chat will be announced on Monday, July 29.