February 23, 2011

Incoming C.U. Students Will Read Novel By Doctorow

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A faculty panel has chosen E.L. Doctorow’s new novel Homer & Langley as this year’s New Student Reading Project, according to an announcement earlier this month by Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Published in 2009, the novel provides a fictionalized version of a New York urban legend, the story of the Collyer brothers. After their parents died in the flu pandemic of 1918, the two became recluses living in a Fifth Avenue brownstone. The book connects the myth of the Collyer brothers with events throughout 20th century American history.

“It’s a kaleidoscope of the 20th century,” said Charlotte Rosen, a senior lecturer in the Johnson School and a member of the final selection committee. Rosen said that the novel — which spans from the flu pandemic of 1918 to the Vietnam War —  “has a lot of issues you can take in different directions.”

These issues include “art, psychology and historical change,” Brown said. “We hope that the novel will inspire each person to take away something of their own.”

According to Brown, about 50 people sent in different nominations for this year’s summer reading. This list was whittled down by a committee composed of representatives from several colleges. Once the list included only four finalists, the panelists debated the merits of each novel and voted.

During next year’s Orientation Week, the New Student Reading Project will feature six lectures on topics connected to the novel.  Although there are no definite plans for these lectures, Brown said that some ideas for topics include pandemics, music, American history and behavioral disorders.

The reading and subsequent discussions form an important part of a new student’s introduction to Cornell, according to Prof. J. Robert Lennon, English, who has volunteered with the New Student Reading Project.

“It shows that there are myriad ways to look at a subject and that Cornell is diverse enough to cover all of them,” Lennon said.

He added that although Homer & Langley offers many avenues to explore, the most significant aspect of the program is that it provides a common experience to new students.

“It’s great because it starts everyone off on the same frame of reference,” Lennon said.

Over the last three years, selections have included Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Garry Wills’ Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Original Author: Kerry Close