“Walden,” Henry David Thoreau’s classic transcendentalist book, will be the reading initiative for the class of 2014.
The selection is a deviation from previous contemporary books chosen. Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” was last year’s selection, and Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel “Persepolis” was chosen for 2008. In an Intercom announcement, President Tom Rochon said the book should serve as a “provocative spur to contemplation and discussion.”
“Walden” was written while Thoreau isolated himself in a cabin for two years to get a better understanding of the civilized society he separated himself from, collecting his observations and reflections. The book was published in 1854.
“Some of the main themes resonate so very well with our campus values around sustainability,” Rochon said. “It’s really a quiet reflection by Thoreau himself about his role in society. And he’s asking questions about himself that I believe many 17- and 18-year-olds are also asking about themselves, or should be asking about themselves.”
New this year to the First-Year Reading Initiative is a feedback component by IC Peers, Ithaca College’s social networking site for incoming freshmen, with questions posted on a forum by faculty and staff on myIthaca.
The annual process of selecting a First-Year Reading Initiative begins with a list of at least a dozen books chosen by the 11-member committee chaired by Bashar Hanna, associate provost for academic programs and initiatives.
“The committee gets together and goes through a process of first identifying a number of possible books,” David Garcia, executive associate dean of the School of Humanities and Science, said.
The other finalists included “What is the What” by Dave Eggers and “A Golden Age” by Tahmima Anam. After the committee submitted its recommendations, Rochon made the final decision.
Garcia said the committee chose “Walden” to curb the trend of books being selected that were solely written by living authors.
“There was a time when there seemed to be a value in having a living author who could come and speak about the book,” Garcia said. “Certainly on other college campuses where they have similar kinds of reading initiatives, that’s of substantial value. In the last three to four years, we’ve gone away from that being a necessary component of the experience.”
Committee members acknowledged that “Walden” is a book that many incoming freshmen may have read in high school, but Marella Feltrin-Morris, assistant professor of Italian studies and committee member, said re-reading the book could still serve as a learning experience for readers.
“The way we read in high school and the way we read in college is very different,” she said. “It’s very nice to rediscover a text that didn’t really strike us, or struck us negatively, in high school and realize that it has much more to offer.”