Director of the University Honors Program David Doyle doesn’t just manage honors classes. He also plays a big role in the selection of the campus Common Reading book. This year, the book is Emily St. John Mandel’s science fiction novel “Station Eleven.”
The Common Reading program has been around for nine years, spearheaded by English Professor Diana Grumbles. Doyle took over her role in this year’s selection process.
Along with selecting a book for all first-years to read, the Common Reading program often brings the author to campus and hosts discussion sessions before the semester begins. Doyle will be leading a discussion of “Station Eleven” in Mary Hay, Peyton, and Shuttles Commons.
Doyle spoke with The SMU Campus Weekly about the Common Reading selection process and his thoughts on this year’s selection.
Q: What sort of process goes into selecting a Common Reading book?
A: “I put together the committee which shows the book. It was made up of faculty, staff and students. We met about every two weeks starting in late October to try to see what had been written and what might be a good common reading for SMU and why. All 15 committee members read a number of books and reported back periodically. Our goal was to choose a book by the end of January. Then, the committee reports to [Associate Provost] Harold Stanley. He is ultimately in charge of it [the Common Reading program].”
Q: Why did the committee pick “Station Eleven?”
A: “We wanted to find something that was provocative, that made people think, but that was also accessible. This book seemed like a good choice because it really asked some difficult questions. By talking about the end of the world as we know it, the reader starts to think about what they take for granted because all of the things we have in our lives today are going to be gone in this world. That seems like that was a lot for people to chew on. Also, the apocalyptic aspect seemed like something that might grab people’s attention.”
Q: What other books were considered this year?
A: “The runner up, the second choice that I thought was going to be this year’s book is a book called ‘The True American.’ It tells the story of a Bangladesh immigrant in Dallas who was attacked a couple weeks after the 9/11 attacks. It became this famous story. This man in Dallas was so upset about 9/11 that he decided to go out and kill terrorists. So what did he do? He just looked for people that looked foreign. So he attacked two clerks in a 7/11 in Dallas and the book is about the one that survived.”
Q: How does the book compare to past common readings?
A: “I think it’s the same in the sense that it offers some lessons or ways to think about the world. What makes it a little different is it’s a novel – we’ve only picked a novel twice before – and then the fact that it was this seemingly apocalyptic novel that students might be somewhat familiar with, that makes it a little unusual too. It’s a little more of a soft message. Some of the other books we’ve picked in the past have leaned in the direction of being didactic or preachy.”
Q: What is your personal favorite part of the book?
A: “I really love the way it opens. I just seems to me so powerful. I’ve read that a number of times. It opens with the Shakespeare play King Lear and the actor drops dead on stage. Then this guy is sort of a wannabe paramedic running up on stage to resuscitate him. That scene is so interesting. Then, by the end of the chapter, the author says that none of these people will live more than three weeks. And it’s this dramatic event that tells you something big is going to happen. It’s a symbol of what’s to come.”
Q: How would you convince a student to read “Station Eleven?”
A: “I have three reasons. One, it’s really interesting. It gives you a lot to think about. Two, for all new students, it’s going to be used in your DISC or writing classes. So you might as well get a head start on that first couple assignments by reading the book this summer. Three, one of the things we’re really trying hard to teach students in college is mental discipline. To sit down and read a book over a week, or a few days, and then be able to talk about it and understand what the issues are is a skill we want all the students to have before they graduate. And this is the time to get started.”