I will admit to an irrational fear, each time we announce a UConn Reads book selection theme, that we won’t get any nominations and we’ll end up selecting a book from an anemic list of six or seven entries.
I needn’t worry. As of July 18, we’re at 149 nominations and counting, and the list is as complex and interesting as ever. This year’s list, responding to the selection category “A Book That Changed My Life,” is particularly wide-ranging. Here are a few of the highlights I’ve distilled so far:
The Bible leads with four nominations, which is not a surprise given its foundational role in Judeo-Christian culture. The comments testify to the multiple ways that people read and respond to the Bible: as spiritual revelation, moral guide, and literature. I was interested to see that the entries in the Author field – from ”God” to “God inspired” to “various authors” – reflect these different approaches to the Bible.
The comments testify to the way that we turn to books not only for entertainment, but also for sustenance.–Anne D’Alleva
A number of other books address how we interact with the natural world: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: Or Life in the Woods (1854), Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard (1978), and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006) all fall in this category. The first two are classics, of course, and the last is a relatively recent book that has been highly influential in arguing for radical changes in the way we eat because “The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world.”
All three have clear potential, but Walden, a classic of American literature and a foundational text of the environmental movement, is especially tempting. The popular Honors course American Landscape: Walden, a History has pioneered innovative approaches to the book on this campus. One of the mainstays of that course has been Professor Robert Thorson of Geology, who has recently published a book inspired by the course: Walden’s Shore: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Science (2014). Thorson argues that Thoreau’s famous statement “every poet has trembled on the verge of science” was an expression not of “Thoreau the poet being seduced by science, but Thoreau the scientist being pushed to the brink of poetry.”
The list also includes several classic coming-of-age books. Renowned author and activist Maya Angelou, who passed away earlier this year, is represented by her ground-breaking autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). In following Maya from the age of three to seventeen, the book addresses, poetically and unflinchingly, the racism and violence that shaped Maya’s childhood. Nominations also include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird (1960); J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951); and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943). The last tells the story of Francie Nolan, a girl growing up in a Brooklyn tenement at the turn of the 20th century, and was both praised and criticized for its realism upon publication.
Of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the nominator wrote: “It left an indelible impression on me as a child, encouraging fortitude and self-reliance.” Francie Nolan dreams of growing up to be a writer and turns to books for solace and encouragement, guidance and escape. In fact that’s a theme throughout the UConn Reads nominations – the comments testify to the way that we turn to books not only for entertainment, but also for sustenance.
To nominate a book, please visit the UConn Reads website. Nominations close Aug. 5, and the book will be announced mid-September.