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[Fresh] One Book Villanova: The Glass Castle

This is a posting from Fresh@News, Villanova's e-mail newsletter for parents and friends of the class of 2012.  See below for information about subscribing or unsubscribing from this service. 


We’ve just finished the first full week of the spring semester, and there is a lot going on for the class of 2012 here at Villanova.  Next week we have our 2009 Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration on campus. Many of the ACS teachers will ask their freshman students to attend one of the events and write about it as part of the class. The week after that we will have the One Book Villanova program, which is another major campus event. To hear more about the One Book program, we’ve asked Mr. Thomas Mogan, Director of Student Development to join us again and tell us about it.


Fresh@News: We hear that this year’s book for the One Book Villanova Program is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Before we talk about the book, let’s talk a little bit about the program.

Mr. Mogan: One Book Villanova is something we have been doing for a number of years now, it’s become an important tradition here at Villanova.  The buzz starts early with people asking us what the One Book will be for next year or, which we like even better, people telling us about great books that they have read that we should consider. The program is administered by a group of dedicated faculty and staff members from around campus and made possible through a generous donation from a parent.


Fresh@News: What is the goal of One Book Villanova Program?

Mr. Mogan: The ultimate goal of the One Book Villanova is to bring the campus community together by giving all administrators, faculty, staff members and students the opportunity of reading the same book and sharing the experience together. In addition, the program is a way to help the campus community become aware of other cultures and perspectives, and new ideas.


Fresh@News: What criteria does the committee use to select the book?

Mr. Mogan:  In selecting the book, the committee first solicits suggestions through an online nomination form open to all students, faculty and staff. Then we narrow the larger list down to a select few that the committee will read to prepare for the final selection.  In making a final selection, we look first for a book that has broad appeal so that it is relevant to all students, staff, faculty and parents. It must also be a suitable length, not too long. It is important for the book to have multiple frames in order to generate insights from many different perspectives and to help the reader understand that there are in fact multiple ways of knowing and understanding the world. The book should have novelty, so that it is new, different, edgy and provocative. It should create challenges, leading readers to ask ‘different’ questions and forcing them to think differently. We also favor books that stress issues related to our Catholic social justice mission, including issues of race, culture, gender and class,


Fresh@News:  So how does the program actually work?

Mr. Mogan:  During the fall semester every undergraduate student receives a free copy of the book.  Many faculty and staff also get copies of the book either from their department or at a discounted price. We plan events around the topic of the book, and we invite the author to campus for a series of events.  We had a discussion of the book at Parents Weekend, and I know that a number of your readers were there for that in September.


Fresh@News:  Remind us of some of the past selections.

Mr. Mogan:  The three other books were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Blood Done Sign My Name, by Tim Tyson, and last year we did Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza. We have had a great response from the whole community. So often we are all reading and thinking about different books, it is great to see everyone focusing on a single work. 


Fresh@News:  Tell us a little about The Glass Castle.

Mr. Mogan:  If you have read it already you know that is a gripping personal statement about Jeannette Walls experience of coming of age in a very unique and challenging set of circumstances.  Her parents were both highly dysfunctional and yet also dedicated in their own way to their family. The father is brilliant and inspiring, but at the same time struggles with alcoholism. The mother is a free spirited artist who hates anything resembling conventional middle class family life.  The children grow up in terrible poverty but somehow find a way to protect and nourish one another and eventually find a new life as adults in New York.  In the process, the author tells a story that gives insights into poverty, homelessness, suffering, love, and ingenuity.  Whatever you think of the book, you may find it as hard to put down as many of us did.


Fresh@News: What attracted the committee to this particular work?

Mr. Mogan:  There are a number of things that really made this book stand out.  Of course, it deals with issues of family and the struggle of a young person to define her own identity over and against that of her parents.  Although the circumstances of our students are very different from what Jeannette Walls experienced, these issues are extremely important to college students in their own lives, and this book gives us a great way to explore them.  Many of our students come from urban or suburban backgrounds themselves, so it is great to expand our horizons to a more rural environment (which is another goal of the program).  All of our book choices have focused on social justice issues in one way or another; previous selections explored the experiences of people in other countries (Afghanistan or Rwanda) or of racism in this country.  Although other works have focused on some family issues, this book touches on some other domestic issues – mental health, alcoholism, homelessness -  which we have not had the chance to explore in such depth with the other works. 


Fresh@News:  So what One Book events are coming up?

Mr. Mogan:  Jeannette Walls will be on campus on Monday January 26, 2009. The author’s talk at 8:00 p.m. in the Pavilion will be preceded by a book signing at 3:00 p.m. in Falvey Library and a community dinner with the author at 6:00 p.m. We expect a lot of community members to come to meet her and hear more about her experience.  I am hoping that we will be able to record the talk and the questions on a webcast, which will be available to parents as well.


Fresh@News: So what should parents be doing to support the program?

Mr. Mogan:  The motto of One Book Villanova is “Read it, Share it.” So if parents haven’t already read the book, I would recommend that they read it themselves.  If they are engaged by it, they should recommend it to their son or daughter and, above all, discuss it with them. Sometimes our freshmen are so absorbed in their own issues that they are oblivious to other things going on in the community, so they may not even remember what this program is about, or they may have forgetten that someone gave them the book.  Don’t hesitate to remind them. 


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