Fall book chosen


Lou Beach’s prize-winning book chosen for next year’s common book

The Common Book for JSC’s next batch of freshman will be “420 Characters,” written by Lou Beach.

The book was selected by committee, which included Director of First-Year Experience Margo Warden, Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Jacob White, Assistant Professor of Education Kathleen Brinegar, JSC President Barbara Murphy, Data and Communication Specialist Kelly Ford and new Coordinator of First-Year Experience, Emily Nielsen.

Student committee members included Nasser Abdel-Fatah, Bonnie Cleverly, Melissa Rixon and Colleen Twomey.

Choosing a book obviously involves reading a lot of books. Each member of the committee suggests a book, and then everyone reads it and comes back to the next meeting with an opinion. “If two to three people do not think the choice will work, according to set criteria, then the book is out of the discussion,” Ford said. “So it goes until the selection is whittled down to a few. In this year’s case it came down to two books, ‘420 Characters’ and ‘In the Sea There Are Crocodiles.’”

While the vote was not unanimous, most were pleased with the “420 Characters” choice. “I love this book, but not for the usual reasons that I love books,” said Brinegar. “Usually when I read there is a character or storyline that resonates with me. This book is different. In essence, it’s a whole book of 420-character stories, and each one of is completely different. As I read, I found that I wasn’t reading to find out what happened in the end, I was reading to see what else the author was going to come up with next.”

The author is also an accomplished illustrator and artist who works primarily with collage. The book contains not only his writing, but plenty of these collages, which are influenced by Beach’s previous exposure to the Surrealists. The stories began as Facebook status updates, which are limited to 420 characters including spaces and punctuation along with letters. Beach used this limitation as a daily writing exercise.

Nielsen believes such an unusual book will spur plenty of discussion among both new and current students. “It allows for a different kind of relationship to a book,” she said. “Because the stories are short and seemingly unrelated, it requires the reader to be an active participant, questioning and making his or her own connections.”

Nielsen’s role as the new coordinator of first-year experience also meant that she had to research which authors could speak at JSC and design relevant programs to enrich the reading experience.

Other books up for consideration included “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” “Generation Me,” “The Devil’s Highway,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Other Wes Moore” and “What It Is Like to Go to War.”

The initiative was started in 2007 to introduce students to academic and intellectual college culture through shared experience. Incoming students must read the same book and then come together during summer orientation to discuss it, and by doing so, they will have a smoother integration into the semester. The program includes lectures, exhibits, films and concerts to complement themes related to the book.