'A Place for Community': Xuan Truong '21 on Smith Reads

"To me reading is breathing," says Xuan Truong '21, one of two student members of this year's Smith Reads book selection committee.

Each year, incoming Smithies around the world spend the summer reading a common book through the Smith Reads program. When students arrive on campus in the fall, they meet in their houses to discuss the book, then talk with the author in a public lecture on campus.

This year’s book is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

Xuan Truong ’21—one of two student members of the committee that selected this year’s work—shares her thoughts on the process and the choice.

“When I joined Smith Reads last semester, there were 10 of us involved in the process, all representing different limbs that make up the Smith College tree. Our committee was diverse, with a multitude of ideas that created the perfect circle for choosing our next book. The group included deans from student affairs, multicultural affairs and the class deans office; professors representing the three divisions of the college; a librarian; the director of the wellness center; and my classmate Kitty Chen ’21.

Members gathered weekly over lunch to discuss book recommendations drawn from the Smith Reads website, as well as other sources. Each committee member perused a book of choice; overall, we reviewed more than 40 titles. The committee was mindful in choosing a book for the program to consider criteria such as its affordability and accessibility, whether the author was able to come to campus, and—of course—the book’s content.

In the end, we decided on Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves— a runner-up for last year’s Smith Reads selection and a dominating contender this year. What makes the book special in our view is the quality of the writing, and how it uses humor to explore a family’s search for identity. The book delves into these notions in the most profound way—through the eyes of a college student attempting to find meaning through her past and the people around her. This search for acceptance appealed to us deeply and drew us to Fowler’s flawed, but relatable protagonist.

I am thrilled to have been a part of the book selection process. To me, reading is breathing—I simply cannot live without it. The opportunity to work with Smith Reads was a perfect way to engage with books, and my experience also taught me that reading can be a way to unify new students through a story that connects them. It’s about finding the next big thing that will let them open up, share and assimilate into a diverse community of intellectuals. Working with the book group also taught me about how committees work at Smith and the importance of reaching consensus.

Many first-year students arrive at Smith feeling hesitant about approaching faculty or staff. I know I was scared at first, but once I started to get involved in campus life—including on the book selection committee—I began to see how things get done at Smith. This college unites people to make tough and challenging choices because everyone has a voice. This philosophy is vital to understanding Smith, not just as a college, but also a place for community.”