Cady Kuzmich, News Editor
Take a moment to look at the people to the left and right of you. There’s a good chance you will all be reading Sherman Alexie’s novel “Flight” at some point this semester. Why, you ask? Well, this fall SUNY Oneonta has jumped on the university book-club bandwagon in its first ever “Common Read.”
So, why should English majors and chemistry majors be required to read the same book? And more importantly, why “Flight”?
Campus-wide reads are becoming increasingly common on college campuses. Administrators and professors see them as an opportunity to build a sense of community and open up a dialogue outside of the classroom that extends beyond twerking, weed and the latest indie bands.
Susan Bernardin, a Native American Literature professor here at SUNY Oneonta, described common reads saying they “typically engage with issues of shared concern to a community, issues such as identity, race, gender, cultural beliefs and social policies,” Bernardin described “Flight” as a book that a diverse audience could find compelling.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive response to “Flight,” the book is not without its critics. Some raise their nose to the novel, criticizing it as unsophisticated young adult rubbish. Others argue that there is more to “Flight” than just a quick read. Yes, the book is easy to read, but since when does accessibility discredit literature? “Just because it’s a page turner doesn’t mean it doesn’t have depth. The more times I read it, the more complex I find it,” summarized Bernardin. After all, the idea is to pick a text that is accessible to a broad base of readers, not just English majors.
A stand-up comedian, poet, novelist, short story writer, and filmmaker – Alexie is a Native American renaissance man. He uses humor as a way to discuss uncomfortable topics that range from genocide to racism and alcoholism. Alexie has shown he’s not afraid to push people out of their comfort zones, leaving even Stephen Colbert speechless in a heated interview a few years back.
I’ve heard the novel described as “raw” and “deceptively simple” on more than one occasion. On the surface, “Flight” is a simple coming-of-age tale about an Indian orphan trying to find his identity. But if you look a bit closer you’ll find a complex and gritty tale of genocide, race, identity and the struggles of growing up. He addresses poverty, the ugliness of U.S. history and our cultural obsession with guns. You may even notice some allusions to Melville and Vonnegut.
This fall’s common read was inspired by last September’s events commemorating the “Black List” and Cornell West’s keynote speech. The college is taking advantage of the dialogue sparked by last fall’s events, riding that momentum into this year. Alexie addressed Oneonta students Tuesday night at the Alumni Field House.
You can watch Sherman Alexie make Stephen Colbert uncomfortable here: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/189691/october-28-2008/sherman-alexie
Cady Kuzmich, News Editor