BINGE by Barrett Seaman

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book'Em ...take our poll!

Binge (July 27, 2006) The summer months can feel incomplete to bibliophiles without the proverbial "beach read". While Barrett Seaman's non-fiction work, Binge, would not be considered of that genre, it was the perfect selection for our "beach" book club. Book-'Em's annual June meeting, al fresco dining on the Long Island shore (thank you, Margie), was enhanced, enriched, and enlivened by the guest attendance of three of our college offspring. Binge is subtitled: What Your College Student Won't Tell You but that was not our evening's experience!

Seaman, a 1967 graduate of Hamilton College, is a journalist and a trustee of his alma mater. He spent two years wandering the campuses of 12 colleges and universities seeking an answer "to the central question of this book: to what degree does the contemporary undergrad experience differ from what it was in the past." The author interacted with students, faculty, and administrators toward that end. He notes the proliferation of non-academic staffing on these campuses with a hierarchy of professionals for every facet of life for current college students. While sometimes surprised and often unsure whether the changes reflect improvement, Seaman relays the information in a fairly impartial, non-sensationalized journalistic manner.

Seaman's own undergraduate years probably parallel most of our members'. We remember the same college culture that he does and we agreed with most of the impressions, thoughts, and reactions he presented. We are all parents of college age children. This was an enjoyable and effortless read. A value-added dimension was that many members took the opportunity to have personal, productive and illuminating conversations with their own children while reading Binge.

The book's format consists of a dozen chapters, each addressing and highlighting a particular aspect or dimension of college life, such as Diversity, Daily "Res" Life, Date Rape, Greek Life, College Sports, and, of course, Alcohol. The format of our meeting was to take an issue, give a brief synopsis to the three student experts in attendance, and get their reaction and perspective. No, our guests had not read the book: they are living it.

At times our college students confirmed and elaborated on the author's findings. Other times their comments clarified and re-framed those of the book. Infrequently, they disagreed with the point of view presented. While attending three different schools, they did not disagree among themselves. To attempt to detail either Seaman's or the undergrads' comments here would be reductive. And if you are the parent of a college-bound or enrolled son or daughter, you have probably heard enough to want to read this title. Yes, we recommend it.

Truly, the highlight of our evening was sharing it with articulate, thoughtful, intelligent and candid members of another generation. It was a lively meeting, as we peppered the kids with our own questions, reminisced for them about "the good old days," and passed around bug spray, desserts, insights, anecdotes, concerns and laughter. We would urge other book groups to consider this same approach to Binge as a selection.

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