Book of the Year Goes Beyond the Shelf

The Consortium Library is filled to the brim with all sorts of content, from books to encyclopedias to newspapers.  Among all these works, two were handpicked by a select group of eight faculty members from UAA and APU to be the much-anticipated Book of the Year.

The Ford Foundation presented UAA and APU a grant to kick-start this program.  The grant was given to 26 universities nationwide and is in place to provide classrooms and students a safe environment for discussion on hard issues such as race, gender and immigration.

“We don’t pick them to be feel good books.  We pick them to address and foster conversation on difficult topics,” says John Dede, UAA director of community partnerships.

For four consecutive years, a theme has been selected each November.  Once a theme is chosen, Dede informs faculty and encourages them to nominate books they feel are appropriate to foster discussion on the topic.  This year’s theme selection was climate change and the detrimental effects in regards to Alaska.

After a list of books has been created around the theme, the list is narrowed down to three or four finalists.  The committee then reads and analyzes each book to decide the two winners.  The finalists for 2009 were “The Whale and the Super Computer” by Charles Wohlforth, and “Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska” by Seth Kanter.

“We try and choose books that are accessible for all students to encourage their involvement,” says Christina Gheen, coordinator of the books of the year program.

At other universities, most programs are specifically targeted towards freshman and presented during orientation exercises.  However, UAA’s choice of two books appeals to professors as well as students so they are able to focus on one in the fall and the other in the spring.

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“[The program is] designed to get people to think about the theme, not just the book, and to express their interpretation in different ways,” Gheen said.

In 2008, a student-led art show was held based on the theme selection.  The show will also take place this year and will be incorporated as part of First Friday.  In addition to the viewing, the show will host a student video contest through Facebook.

The University holds professional development seminars to help professors include this book in their class teachings.

Resident Advisers also hold discussions in the dorms to encourage students living on campus to read and chat about the book.

The program brings the authors to campus for a single keynote lecture each year.  This semester, students lucked out because Wohlforth lives in Anchorage and has been able to make several University appearances.  His initial keynote speech, however, will be held on February 18, 2010, whereras Kanter will be speaking November 12 at 7 p.m. in ARTS 150.

The process for selecting next year’s theme will begin this month.  The new books will be picked in March and the selection committee will review the books throughout the summer.

Copies of both books are available for checkout in the library and students receive a 20 percent discount at the UAA Bookstore.