Book Club in Savannah Bay with professor Agnes Andeweg, picture Savannah Bay

One Book One Campus: reading Autumn together to start a discussion

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One Book One Campus is an open invitation to students and employees at Utrecht University to all read the same book and talk about it with each other. Chosen for this purpose is Autumn, written by the Scottish writer Ali Smith, who will come to the UU on the 7th of November. “I hope her book will bring people in contact.”

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Last year was the first edition of One Book One Campus. Then it was only meant for UCU students and employees. The aim of the project was to stimulate conversations about social issues, to enjoy reading together, and to strengthen the social and intellectual community on campus by reading one and the same book. This year the focus is not only on bringing people from University College together, but also those from outside. Courses from the study programmes English Language and Culture, Literary Studies, Literature Today and UCU have included the book in their required reading. The events organised around One Book One Campus are open to everyone.

Founder of the project and literature tutor Agnes Andeweg choose for the book Autumn by Ali Smith that was elected in September as eighth best book of the 21st century by The Guardian. Her choice fell on Autumn mainly because of the timeliness of it: it mirrors the situation of Great Britain after the majority of the Brits opted for a Brexit when voting for the EU referendum. The book stimulates students to think about political and social issues, says the tutor.

“It was not so easy to choose a book”, admits Andeweg. “I wanted a book that connects to social issues, a book that is timely and at the same time literary interesting. When I was reading Autumn myself, I thought “This could be a very good candidate”.

Funny, easy and accessible
The book is bout the 32-year-old Elisabeth Demand. She visits the 101-year-old Daniel Gluck. He was her former neighbour with whom she was good friends, but is now deteriorating. Elisabeth’s life is set in a small town in post-referendum Britain. The descriptions of the surroundings give at least as much meaning to the novel as the plot of it.

Autumn is about politics, but on a really individual level,” explains Andeweg. “We can say ‘it’s about Brexit’, but it’s also not about Brexit: there’s no politician in it. It’s a political book because it’s about how we should deal with each other’s differences, and how we can live together in a country that is split right down the middle. Bringing opposites together: that is politics.”

Recognition also appears to be an important reason for the choice of this book. ”There are really easy, accessible parts in it, and also funny ones. For example, Elisabeth has to apply for a new passport and then encounters a bureaucracy that many will be recognize. Her passport photo is rejected because her hair is in her face. She answers that it is simply stuck to her head. This scene shows you how absurd bureaucracy can be.

What else the students gain from the project? “A nice experience, the willingness to read a book again, and for the ones who have to read it for their course: the opportunity to meet a writer”, says Andweg. Moreover, she is convinced of the effect of the project and the book: “I hope it puts people in contact with each other. In a little while, the whole auditorium will be filled with students from UCU, UU, non-students, colleagues and book clubs. The book organises an experience. It literally brings people together. Our life exists of many micro-events, this can be one of those micro-events, but also one that can adjusts your worldview.

The book club
In September there was already a book club organised in bookshop Savannah Bay which is involved in One Book One Campus. The gathering was lead by Andeweg. There were nine people around the table that evening; old and young, students and non-students. All had the book in front of them: some Autumn, others the Dutch translation Herfst. Andeweg had made a selection of interesting passages from the book. The participants took turns reading them aloud, and subsequently delved into each of them. Veerle de Jong, master’s student Literature Today, was present at this book club. “It was a more informal meeting about literature than I am used to, so it was nice to look at a literary novel from a perspective that you might not have encountered in university”, she says.

Joel Burton, also a Literature Today student, is going to the Auditorium on the International Campus on the 7th of November for the visit of Ali Smith’s who was not only nominated for literary prizes with Autumn, but also with others. “It’s not very often that an author of Ali Smith’s stead comes to your university to give a free talk. I’m interested to see what kind of talk Smith gives. It seems like she will be a very engaging and original speaker.” Smith will read from her own work on this evening, be interviewed by Andeweg and answer questions from the audience. The winner of the creative contest that is part of the project will also be revealed this evening.

Next year let’s read one book with really everyone from the university? “I think I know another book”, smiles Agnes.


 


You can join the project by reading Autumn, talking about it with others, and visiting the different events that take place since the 12th of September: book clubs on the campus and in book shop Savannah Bay, a creative contest, and of course Ali Smith’s visit on the 7th of November in the Auditorium of UCU. or on the 6th of November in TivoliVredenburg.

The book can be bought at the reception UCU for only 5 euros. At Savannah Bay in the Telingstraat the book is available for 12 euros.

 

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