Common Read Encourages Reading for Pleasure
Bich Minh Nguyen, author of Short Girls, visited North Park as part of this year’s Campus Theme
CHICAGO (November 11, 2014) — In early August, North Park University’s incoming freshmen received a package in the mail. It was a book, Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen. The book included a letter that described North Park’s Common Read initiative, and its connection to this year’s Campus Theme, "What Is Food?"
“The first question a lot of students asked after they received the book in the mail is if they were going to be tested on it,” said Dr. Linda Craft, professor of Spanish and coordinator of the Common Read. “The answer is no. This is about the pleasure of reading, and realizing you are going to be part of a larger conversation and a larger pursuit of learning.”
The Common Read, similar to initiatives like One Book, One Chicago, is in its second year as part of the Campus Theme. The idea is that incoming freshmen have a shared experience of reading the same book, which is selected based on the Campus Theme, and then gather throughout the year to discuss its meanings and implications.
Short Girls was chosen as this year’s book for a number of reasons, including the exploration of second-generation immigrants, gender issues, and often-overlooked difficulties in modern society—in this case, being short. In addition, food plays a prominent role in the book, from its place within the traditional Vietnamese home, to the workplace of one of the main characters, Linny. Similar to last year’s book, The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon, Short Girls also offers a cultural commentary of Chicago, the city where Linny lives.
“There are a number of tensions and dynamics at work in the book that tie into what students experience in their lives in and outside of North Park,” said Craft. “Reading is in some ways an individual thing, but when you come together and process your thoughts on a book—ask the 'why' questions—then it can be a way to create community.”
Last Thursday, students had an opportunity to explore the book even further as its author Bich Minh Nguyen visited campus for a lecture in Anderson Hall. Besides the award-winning novel Short Girls, Nguyen is also the author of the memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner, a PEN/Jerard Award-winner and a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year.
“It’s fascinating to meet the author of what you just read,” said Craft. “These students came to North Park with a number of comments and questions on the book and we facilitated discussions. But it’s a whole different experience to ask the author directly.”
Campus Theme events will continue throughout the year. The schedule includes a film week in January; a February address from Kim Stein, a scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute; and a March lecture from Dr. Norman Wirzba, professor at Duke University and author of Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.
“Traditionally, the Campus Theme has been about a value or idea, for example, ‘What Is Community?’ ‘What Is Justice?’ ‘What Is Peace?’" said Dr. Karl Clifton-Soderstrom, associate professor of philosophy and the director of the Campus Theme program. “This year we wanted to address something more tangible. Eating is a daily human experience that all of us share. It is the most provocative of questions because first, it is so fundamental to human life, and second, because it bears directly on other values that we care about here at North Park—justice, compassion, community, theology, and cultural diversity.”