On his eponymous blog Bill Degenero describes the advantages of using whole texts rather than readers in FYC (and other undergraduate) classes, seeing a deeper level of engagement in his students that results in/is the product of fruitful discussion and more thoughtful writing (but don't trust my summary--read his post for yourself!). Book orders are due soon at my CC, so it's a timely post that raises some important questions.
For a variety of reasons (economic as well as pedagogic) I've pretty much thrown away the idea of using FYC readers. I'm drawn to the idea of giving my students a deeper exposure to subjects than they get from the sources they typically find for "research assignments" (whatever form they take). I've tried to do this with theme-based classes, using both related readings and, usually, a book-length text as well, but student reaction was ambivalent, mostly due to boredom/exhaustion with the theme I selected (I've tried food, technology, and education). Bill's post makes me wonder about the possibility of using, rather than one theme, several book-length texts to give some variety of subject matter, which was, if I remember correctly, John Lovas's approach. (Of course, the issue arises of how much to expect freshman students to read...)
Possible nonfiction texts. Bill's students have been reading Paul Loeb's book The Soul of a Citizen. I've used John McPhee's Oranges, Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, and Steven Johnson's Ghost Map. Other possibilities I've considered: Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded, though these may be too long. Any other suggestions, or suggestions for selection criteria??