When her book “Ten Thousand Saints” was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2011 by The New York Times, Ithaca College writing professor Eleanor Henderson said it was the pinnacle of her literary career.
Now, President Tom Rochon has given her further recognition by selecting her debut novel as the college’s First-Year Reading Initiative for the upcoming academic year.
Henderson said she was humbled and surprised her book was chosen for this year’s FYRI. The book was chosen by Rochon after a committee narrowed the search down to a few final texts.
“I feel incredibly gratified and grateful that the college has chosen my book — and really surprised,” Henderson said. “I was on the committee last year to choose the first-year reading selection, and I was impressed by all the work the committee does to choose one book out of really many wonderful books that are nominated by the faculty every year.”
Released in June, Henderson’s book was also named among the Top 10 Debut Fiction books by Amazon, a Rewind 2011 book by iTunes and one among Top Five Fiction books by O, The Oprah Magazine.
Set in the 1980s, “Ten Thousand Saints” examines drug-dealing parents and straight-edge teenagers’ search for an identity after the their lives are one day turned upside down.
Speaking on the ’80s setting and straight-edge culture discussed in her novel, Henderson said the relatively unfamiliar nature of the book’s theme may appeal to younger people.
“I think, and I hope, that a young person encountering the book would be interested in a relatively unknown subject matter and being introduced to the straight-edge movement,” she said. “I hope that the book would sort of speak to the universality of the coming-of-age experience.”
Rochon said the initiative is aimed at getting through to students during their transition from high school to college.
“The purpose of the freshman reading program is to give students an opportunity to read something that will speak to the particular moment in their lives when they are in one of those major transitions between high school and college,” Rochon said.
In the past, the list of FYRI books has included “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau and “Dreams From My Father” by President Barack Obama.
Sophomore Gregory Tilden, Henderson’s former student, believes exposing students to a piece that is more relevant to younger generations serves them better than exposing them to more traditional alternatives.
“I have high hopes for the book, especially finding out that it’s about punk culture in the ’80s, which is something I am interested in,” he said. “I expect it to be really interesting. I have heard good things about it.”
Rochon said the book’s characters appealed to him and their story serves exactly what the reading initiative’s purpose is.
“Different people will see different merits in the book,” he said. “But for me, I was especially struck by the major characters in the book who are themselves young adults and they are making these kinds of life choices.”
The fact that the book was written by a professor at the college is a significant bonus, Rochon said.
“We realized we had a wonderful opportunity to choose a book that was
appropriate for this purpose,” he said. “And whose author would actually be working with some of the students who are reading it this summer.”