KALAMAZOO—Members of the public are invited to join Western Michigan University as it turns the spotlight on Yann Martel's "Life of Pi," winner of the 2002 Booker Prize and released as a film in 2012.
The critically acclaimed novel is starring in the 2014-15 University Common Read. The common read officially begins the first week in June, when new students arrive on campus for orientation. Many students and employees will be reading Martel's book over the summer in preparation for events being planned to run through the 2014-15 academic year, which ends next April.
WMU's First-Year Experience office will begin staging activities for incoming freshmen in late August during Fall Welcome Week. In addition, students registered for the First-Year Seminar class will be reading the book as part of their coursework. Other activities will be open to the public.
They include a talk by Martel titled "Healing Journeys: Crossing the Pacific, Dealing With Trauma" set for Oct. 23 in Miller Auditorium. It is being co-sponsored by the common read committee, among others, and is part of a healing-arts speaker series being organized by the University Center for the Humanities.
About the book
On one level, "Life of Pi" is a survival story about Piscine "Pi" Patel, the spiritual son of a zookeeper from India. The family is in the process of emigrating to Canada, with many zoo animals, when the cargo ship they are on sinks. A single lifeboat remains afloat on the blue Pacific waters. The only survivors are Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan and a 450-pound royal Bengal tiger.
On another level, Martel told readers in an online question-and-answer session hosted by ABC News in 2003 that he wanted Pi to reflect the idea that life is an interpretation, with people's imaginations shaping reality.
"His argument (and mine) is that a vision of life that has a transcendental element is better than one that is purely secular and materialist," he wrote. "But I wanted that better story to have something unbelievable about it...every great thing in life—be it religion, love, any ideal—has an element of the unreasonable to it."
Reading group kits for WMU common readers will be available at the Waldo Library Access Services desk June 2. Each kit contains six copies of "Life of Pi" and a discussion guide. Those wishing to sponsor events related to the book should contact Miranda Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.