What they read on campus today

Where are the radical collegiate reading habits of yesteryear? What happened to late-night dorm room discussions of books like "Soul on Ice" or "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"?

A new generation walks the paths of college quads these days and their literary tastes, according to Ron Charles in yesterday's Washington Post, are closer to those of "13-year-old girls – or their parents."

Charles has been studying the book-purchasing habits of college students and finds himself somewhat aghast. "According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the best-selling titles on college campuses are mostly about hunky vampires or Barack Obama," he writes. "Recently, [Twilight author Stephenie] Meyer and the president held six of the 10 top spots. In January, the most subversive book on the college bestseller list was 'Our Dumb World,' a collection of gags from the Onion. The top title that month was 'The Tales of Beedle the Bard' by J.K. Rowling."

The presence of Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers' and Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' on the same collegiate bestseller list does not make Charles feel any better. "The only specter haunting the groves of American academe seems to be suburban contentment," he writes.

Should we be worried about today's students/young readers? That depends on who you talk to.

Yes, says Eric Willliamson, an English teacher at the University of Texas-Pan American. Today's students, he told Charles, "do not have any shame about reading inferior texts."

No, says, Mike Connery, who writes about progressive youth politics for the Web site Future Majority. Today's students may love Meyer's "Twilight" series, but that's just for escape, he argues to Charles. Students "don't necessarily read their politics nowadays. They get it through YouTube and blogs and social networks. I don't know that there is a fiction writer out there right now who speaks to this generation's political ambitions. We're still waiting for our Kerouac."

As for Charles, he's not buying it. "For the Twitter generation, the new slogan seems to be 'Don't trust anyone over 140 characters.' What you see at the next revolution is far more likely to be a well-designed Web site than a radical novel or a poem. Not to be a drag, but that's so uncool."

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