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Trailblazers in Reading image

Submitted by Professor Scott Barr

American author Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” This holds true for many of the young men and women in Professor Anita Conkel and Professor Scott Barr’s English composition classes. On April 15, students marked their participation in “The Great American Read” with a celebration sponsored by the English Department and hosted by the Maxwell Library staff.

“The Great American Read” is a nationwide event started by the Public Broadcast System (PBS) in 2018. One hundred influential and inspiring books were nominated by people from all walks of life, with voting throughout the summer for America’s favorite novel. At the PBS “Grand Finale” broadcast in October, the countdown led to the top five books: “The Lord of the Rings,” “Pride and Prejudice,” the Harry Potter series, “Outlander,” and—drumroll, please—America’s number one novel: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the story of racial injustice written by Alabama author Harper Lee.

For their composition class project, students could freely choose a book from the list. All of the top five books were selected, as well as a wide variety of others including “Jane Eyre,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Shack,” “Left Behind,” “Looking for Alaska,” “Hatchet,” “The Notebook,” and “1984.”

While reading the books, students participated in discussion groups to examine literary aspects of their novels. Literary Analysis essays allowed readers to express their interpretations of the books.

To celebrate the project, the open-house party on April 15 featured students who volunteered to present something from their books. Dramatic readings, skits, personal reflections, Scriptural connections, poetry, and other creative presentations were enjoyed by over 75 students, faculty, and staff.

Many book enthusiasts brought in food items related to their books, ranging from Turkish Delight (“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”) to burnt toast (“The Hunger Games”).

Some students came to the event in costumes depicting their books. Rachel Bentley took home the prize for best costume, inspired by her book “Where the Red Fern Grows.”

Abigail Adams also won a prize for having read the most books from the list (63 and counting).

“The Great American Read at OCU” was a resounding success, and the English faculty hope students will be motivated to add other titles to their future bucket lists.

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