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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Search begins for first-year book forum

Published: November 15, 2013
Section: News

This year, Brandeis first-years delved into the world of antebellum Virginia, a land of tense race relations and slavery. After reading “The Known World” over the summer, students heard the author Edward P. Jones speak on campus about his award-winning novel. Students were able to ask questions of this famous author while they were officially welcomed to Brandeis.

“I was quite surprised [when I heard my book was selected] because the book has been out for several years, and I felt very privileged,” said Jones in an interview with The Hoot earlier this year.

In years past, Brandeis students have read varied works from “Fun House,” a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, to “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the same novel. Each year, a committee is assembled to choose the book for incoming first-years.

“I came to hold a spot on the committee because I was coordinator of orientation last year,” said Joseph Babeu ’15. Babeu is no longer a coordinator, as the position lasts only a year, but he was asked to stay on the book forum committee because he took the initiative last year. “I started the process of engaging incoming students in the forum early online,” he said.

Babeu states that the committee has existed for a number of years, and the participants vary from year to year, with usually eight to 10 members. The process of choosing a book can be a long and tedious one.

“The process starts with a long list compiled from staff and faculty suggestions, which can sometimes be upward of 50 books. We then narrow them down to a manageable number (say, four to eight books) by reading synopses and checking out authors. From there, we read the remaining books in their entirety and order them in terms of preference as a group. Authors are then reached out to for the event in order of preference,” Babeu said.

The deadline for the committee is quickly approaching, as the book is chosen at the start of the spring semester.

Babeu argues that the book forum is imperative to Brandeis first-years for a number of reasons.

“It’s a good concept for first-year students as the book can do a lot to impact their impressions of Brandeis before they even arrive on campus. Also, it serves as a mutual experience that the entire class can share in. Additionally, it introduces them to a good book, and they get to meet a famous author,” he said. “In my opinion, the goal is to academically engage students in a way they’ve never been engaged before by being in a college setting and having the opportunity to hear the author speak and ask them questions in person. It’s a good introduction to college literature.”

Babeu states that while each person on the committee is searching for different qualities in novels, he feels as though “the most important qualities for the book to have are thought-provoking ideas, real meaning and a vibrant writing style.”

This year, the committee includes other students such as Trevor Tuplin ’16, who has been selected as the coordinator of orientation for the class of 2018.