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Open Books-Open Minds Includes Entire Campus in Freshmen Reading

Anita Duneer, OBOM co-chair and English professor, Bill Pett, adjunct English professor and Silvio Medina, a student OBOM mentor, discuss this year's Open Books-Open Minds selection, “PYM.”

Anita Duneer, OBOM co-chair and English professor, Bill Pett, adjunct English professor and Silvio Medina, a student OBOM mentor, discuss this year's Open Books-Open Minds selection, “PYM.”

 

A group of Rhode Island College faculty and students recently met over lunch to talk about zombies, global warming and environmental apocalypse. And they weren’t chatting about the latest disaster film or end of the world theories. They were meeting to discuss this year’s required freshmen reading, Mat Johnson’s “PYM,” which has been assigned through the college’s common book program - Open Books-Open Minds.

The program brings together first-year students with upper-level peers, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni through book discussions, programs and activities.

“The goal is to have a common intellectual focus during the academic year,” said English professor Zubeda Jalalzai, co-chair of Open Books-Open Minds. “These lunch time programs are to help faculty and mentors get motivated for teaching the book and to share ideas on teaching and engaging students in the material.”

The summer reading discussions are part of a yearlong group of events surrounding the material. Other events include a PYM Marathon Read, roundtable discussions in September, a lecture by Johnson in October, and the third annual Open Books-Open Minds Student Conference in April 2014, where students showcase their writing and research on the book or issues inspired by their reading.

Program coordinators describe “PYM” as an “ironic comedy, a social satire and a commentary on race in American culture and literature.” The novel tells the story of a man’s quest to retrace the voyage of Pym, a character in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” to Antarctica where there are monsters and global warming problems.

“The campus votes, but the reason we chose “PYM” as a possible selection is because we like the inter-textuality of it, as it references a great number of 19th-century works and it’s very funny,” Jalalzai said. “The handling of race and color seem fresh and relevant, and the novel takes up unpopular stances, such as being critical of a campus diversity committee, in order to re-think these identities and dynamics for a younger generation of readers and citizens.”

Open Books-Open Minds selects a book each year based on distinction, accessibility to entering freshmen in terms of language, length and availability, and likely interest to freshmen based on theme or publicity related to the book. Freshmen are required to finish reading the book before the fall semester begins. The book is incorporated into a variety of courses.  

Open Books, Open Minds is asking the RIC community for help in selecting the 2014-2015 common book. The committee invites feedback, by e-mail at OBOM@ric.edu, from those who have read any of short-list titles. Students, faculty and staff will vote on the top three selections late in the fall 2013 semester. A list of candidate books is available at: www.ric.edu/obom/pdf/Summerreadinglist2013.pdf.