Fresh books for freshmen

Hannah Jastram

Freshmen and transfer students kicked off the two-term Freshman Studies sequence with Shakespeare’s classic play, “Hamlet.” Actors from the London Stage will be performing the play Sept. 27 in the Cloak Theatre in lieu of the standard lectures that accompany each work.
“Hamlet” is one of the three works on the Freshman Studies reading list that has changed since last year. The habitually befuddling Italo Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler” has been replaced with Virginia Woolf’s more streamlined “A Room of One’s Own,” while Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry gave way to Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
English professor Tim Spurgin is directing the program for the 2006-07 academic year. Under his supervision, the Works Committee is responsible for facilitating the revision of the reading list every year. The committee takes about 25 initial nominations from each of the five divisions: music, fine arts, science, social science and humanities.
The Works Committee must take into consideration two stipulations. First, and most logically, at least one work from each of the five divisions should be taught each year in order to develop the Lawrentian’s well-rounded intellectual figure.
Second, between 20 and 30 percent of the works must change “so that the course remains fresh,” explained Spurgin. Given the current 12-item reading list, the second stipulation means that three works are reconsidered each year.
Calvino got the axe for practical reasons. “We knew that we wanted to work with the actors from London, and the only time they could come was in the first spot,” said Spurgin. He commented that “[Calvino’s is] a great first work” thanks to its non-traditional style and structure, the fact that it is about reading and its ability to spark discussion.
Since Calvino couldn’t be the first work and because his style and themes overlapped with those of Jorge Borges’ short stories, he was out.
As for Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, Spurgin said, “I would be surprised is Bishop didn’t come back.”
Both Woolf and Weber’s works fit under the unofficial themes for the respective terms. Instructors attended a weeklong symposium and two themes emerged from their discussion.
Fall term’s works answer the question, “How should you react when confronted with injustice?” In “A Room of One’s Own,” which is back from a five-year hiatus, Woolf expounds upon women and fiction and also explores the relationship between creativity and anger. Spurgin commented on the appropriateness of Woolf’s work for Freshman Studies. “It has literary qualities, but it makes an argument.”
Winter term’s works explore the role of the individual in society. “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” is a newcomer to the reading list. From the social science divisions, it contrasts with the other work of social science for the term, Milgram’s “Obedience to Authority.” Milgram demonstrates experimental social science while Weber is a theorist who wrestles with historical and psychological problems.
But for now, the freshmen grapple with Hamlet’s procrastinating ways. Freshman Ben Honan spoke about his first day. “It was pretty cool. We paired up to discuss a thesis for our paper due this Sunday.”
However, Honan admitted that he hadn’t actually gotten the assignment to construct a thesis. “Hopefully I can be a little more prepared next time.