Our nomination list for the 2013-14 UConn Reads program stands at 54 books and counting. When thinking about providing the first “sneak peek” into this wide-ranging sample of world literature, I struggled to settle on an organizing principle – should I choose to highlight a continent or country? A century? A theme?
Finally, I decided to highlight books whose nominators took the time to explain why the book in question would be a good fit for UConn Reads.
The commentary is a consistently fascinating aspect of the UConn Reads nomination list. Many nominators provide a wonderful glimpse into their lives and favorite books, and I am grateful the time they take to think about the UConn Reads initiative and how different books might contribute to the life of the University.
A good example from this year’s list is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which has several nominations. Originally published in Brazil in 1988, it is one of the best-selling books of all time, with more than 30 million copies published in 56 languages. One nominator wrote, “This book is about life’s journey. A young shepherd sets out on a journey where he faces danger, encounters love, and has many learning experiences along the way. Not unlike a college student!”
This writer is not alone in trying to think of books that might connect to a college-age audience. Although UConn Reads reaches out to all members of the larger UConn community – not only current faculty, staff, and students but also alumni, retirees, prospective students, fans, and friends – many nominators put the current students first, at the center of the UConn Reads as they are at the center of university life.
Coelho’s book is an appealing book to consider for UConn Reads. The Alchemist is a fable about a boy pursuing his ‘Personal Legend’ as revealed in a dream, and under the guidance of several key figures he meets along the way. It is worth noting that the book has received a mixed response from reviewers amid readers alike, with some responding strongly to its simple language and inspiring message, while others are less enthralled. Will The Alchemist endure as a classic – or will it become another Jonathan Livingston Seagull?
Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul has also received multiple nominations, one of which suggested that it would heighten students’ global awareness: “I read it before visiting Turkey a few months ago with a UConn program, and it really brought to life much of the culture for me. It is also highly relevant now, with the recent protests and upheaval in Istanbul and around Turkey. Reading this book would be a chance to put a spotlight on current events, as well as helping UConn students to understand the culture in which this upheaval is occurring overseas.”
The novel, which addresses the Armenian genocide of 1914-18, sparked controversy in Turkey and charges of “public denigration of Turkishness” against the author. The bastard of the title is a 19-year-old girl whose beautiful, unconventional mother has raised her among three generations of female relatives.
Shafak herself is a truly global writer. Born in Strasbourg, France, she lived in Spain and Jordan as a teenager before returning to Turkey. Currently a faculty member at the University of Arizona, Shafak writes in both Turkish and English, and her work has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Another nomination, Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared, was inspired by a class at UConn. The alumni nominator writes, “The writing is simple but beautiful, and paints a vivid picture of the setting (Southern Italy) and the characters. The story is thought-provoking, and the ending is chilling. In particular, the focus on the experience of the story through children is startling. I read this book years ago, in my Italian class at UConn, and I still think about it today – needless to say, Ammaniti leaves a lasting impression!”
Ammaniti’s book addresses the violence and social upheaval that marked Italy in the 1970s. Since its publication in 2001, the novel has sold nearly 700,000 copies and has been published in more than 20 languages. Ammaniti is the youngest-ever winner of the prestigious Viareggio-Repaci Prize.
So, three international best-sellers beloved by members of the UConn community. Any of them would make a good choice for UConn Reads, but I have to admit that just as I was finishing this update, I received a new copy of the nomination list … Next up in the “sneak peeks”: either “classics of world literature” or “novels of South Asia.” Stay tuned!
To nominate a book, please visit www.uconnreads.uconn.edu/.