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How ‘The Boom’ Became This Year’s Penn State Reads Book

Over 7,000 bright-eyed freshmen stepped on to Penn State’s campus for the first time as students just five days ago. No matter where each of these students are from or what their majors are, a few things happened to each and every one of them in the past week. They all moved into their tiny dorm room that they will call home for the next year. They all sat in the Bryce Jordan Center, listening to President Barron’s welcoming address during Convocation. They all nervously rushed to their first class on Monday, hoping they wouldn’t get lost trying to find the building.

But there’s another thing that brings all of these new Nittany Lions together: this year’s Penn State Reads’ book. The title of this book, which is suggested reading for each and every member of the freshmen class, is The Boom by Pulitzer Prize finalist and The Wall Street Journal energy reporter Russell Gold. The Boom chronicles the fracking industry’s rise from obscurity to industry dominance. Among other things, the book questions the world’s overwhelming demand for energy and where we will have to turn in the future for power.

The Boom has received praise from nearly every type of outlet and public figure. In its review, Forbes Business called the book “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Fracking.” But how, exactly, did this book about the energy industry land in the laps of every member of the class of 2019? We spoke to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Co-Director of Penn State Reads Dr. Jackie Edmondson to find out.

First, here’s a little history on the Penn State Reads program. It was only introduced two years ago, for the 2013-2014 school year. “Penn State Reads is a partnership between Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs,” said Edmondson.

The first Penn State Reads book was Beautiful Souls by Eyal Press, followed by Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the next year. Each of these books was chosen the same way as The Boom.

The process starts with an submission process open to the entire Penn State community. Students, faculty members, and lovers of all literature can send whatever title they think the freshman class cannot live without.

Next, the Penn State Reads steering committee narrows down that huge list to six of seven titles. These select titles are read by each member of the committee, and they keep their eyes out for how each book meets the program’s criteria. “We also consider how the books compare to past books so that we have a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, different topics, etc,” said Edmondson. “It is a priority to find books that will help us to achieve the goals of the Penn State Reads program.”

From there, one book takes the title as the official Penn State Reads book of the year. As for how The Boom fared in this process, Edmondson said the book brings people from all different departments together to engage in an important discussion. “The book connects with many different perspectives on these issues held by faculty across the university, including faculty in the arts and liberal arts, who may hold different points of view from faculty in EMS and other colleges,” said Edmondson.

As to what The Boom can do for Penn State, the Penn State Reads committee has high hopes. “One thing the committee appreciated was how the book raises questions that should lead to some good discussions about energy independence, technologies related to energy, [and] the consequences of different forms of energy for people in rural and urban areas,” said Edmondson.

About the Author

Anna Foley

Anna is a senior majoring in Communication Arts & Sciences and Spanish with a minor in Theatre. Yes, she went to Spain. Follow her half-funny thoughts @exfoleyator and send her chain emails at [email protected]

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