The Book All Freshmen Are Reading

September 23, 2019 | by Mary Flegler

In the early 1930s, Gertrude Stein, Oakland-raised oracle of the Lost Generation, revisited her hometown. It was the trip that inspired her infamous and oft-contested line: “There is no there there.” Stein reportedly gazed upon the site where her house had once been, razed to make way for new developments. “That is what makes your identity,” Stein writes in her autobiography, “not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember.”

In August 2019, roughly 9,000 freshmen and transfer students left their respective hometowns behind to make new lives for themselves in Berkeley, not far from Stein’s old neighborhood. Swallowed into Berkeley’s vast student population, they will sooner or later be confronted with big questions: Who was I back home—back there? Who will I be here?

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