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Smith Reads


Office of the Class Deans

College Hall 101
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-4915

Have a Suggestion?

Fall 2023

Do you have a compelling reading or an idea in mind?

Deadline for submissions is Friday, February 3, 2023



A selection of book jackets from recent Smith Reads selections

What Is Smith Reads?

Smith Reads is a first-year reading experience for all students new to Smith College. This includes first-year students, Ada Comstock Scholars, and visiting and transfer students. The program consists of three essential components:

  • Reading the assigned text before your arrival at Smith
  • Attending the guest author’s speaking engagement
  • Participating in the in-house discussion of the reading

Why Smith Reads?

Smith Reads enables new students to consider the college’s essential capacities, which are designed to guide your education. Close readings enhance the attributes we espouse as a liberal arts college, where we value critical thinking, respectful conversation, attentive listening, and the ability to articulate ideas and thoughts.


New to Smith Reads

On Cromwell Day 2022, the college announced that our Smith Reads program will collaborate with the Office of Equity and Inclusion in advancing their mission toward improving and enriching the educational work and experiences of everyone in the Smith community.

To that end, we anticipate that our choices moving forward will offer keen insight into the discrepancies of our everyday world and support OEI’s mission of opening hearts, minds and systems.

The Smith Reads Selection for Fall 2022


The Book of Form and Emptiness: A Novel 
by Ruth Ozeki

Join author and Smith faculty member Ruth Ozeki ’80 and your new peers to discuss her award-winning fourth novel, which deals with grief, compassion and inanimate objects that talk. Add your voice to the discussion (and see if the book joins in). 

This brilliantly inventive novel has been awarded the Women’s Prize for Fiction; judges cited its “sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence and poignancy.” For more insight into this year’s reading, see this article based on her recent webinar on writing, sponsored by the Office of Alumnae Relations, and watch the complete video below. You might also be interested in this discussion with faculty members on the selection committee.   

Here are a few of the glowing reviews the book has received:

“Inventive, vivid, and propelled by a sense of wonder.” —TIME

“If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home.” —David Mitchell, Booker Prize–finalist and author of Cloud Atlas

“Ozeki writes with great compassion and insight about love and loss…” —The Guardian

Ruth Ozeki ’80 is professor of English language & literature and Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.

Past Readings

The first-year reading program at Smith has been in place since 1999. Since its inception, the program’s mission has been predicated on the awareness that co-curricular activities are vital to a student’s overall academic success and residential experience. Following is an abbreviated history of past books for Smith Reads.

Reading closely and deeply serves as a tool—a means—not an end in itself. Reading prompts participants to reflect on their own background, beliefs and experience. Engaging in reading with others provides all readers with a commonality to anchor further conversation.

While books comprise the basis of most first-year reading experiences, other forms of “texts,” such as paintings, photographs, film, poetry and works of art are also considered valuable as potential and future reads.

As a community initiative, Smith Reads operates so that all incoming students:

  • enjoy a shared intellectual experience upon their arrival at Smith
  • join a facilitated conversation about topics of intellectual, social and/or ethical significance with their house peers
  • interact with critically acclaimed authors, scholars and artists as well as with Smith faculty and teaching staff who are invested in their learning

The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki

Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

Educated, Tara Westover

How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, Andrew Hoffman

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki


The Collapse of Western Civilization, Naomi Oreskes

Whistling Vivaldi, Claude Steele

My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor

Dreaming in French, Alice Kaplan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women, Nicholas D. Kristop and Sheryl WuDunn

The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones

Smith Reads Talks With Author Ruth Ozeki ’80

Ruth Ozeki ’80—award-winning author, filmmaker, Zen Buddhist priest, and Smith College professor of English language and literature—discusses her writing process; how Smith has impacted her life and career; and her latest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness. The book has been awarded the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction, one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary awards.