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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Dallas Wiertella
Dallas Wiertella
Multimedia Editor

Through my experience here at the North Wind I have been able to have the privilege of highlighting students through all forms of multimedia journalism. Whether I'm in front or behind the camera, I aim...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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One Book One Community

The many members of the NMU and Marquette community who have immersed themselves in the cerebral and imaginative realm of Mary Doria Russell’s book, “The Sparrow,” will be offered the opportunity to explore the work’s complex and often challenging themes with the author as she visits Northern next week.

During her time in Marquette, Russell will be giving a reading from “The Sparrow,” which was chosen in April as the Marquette area’s book for the One Book, One Community program. The reading will take place Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center. The event will also feature a discussion period for attendees to communicate directly with the author about her work.

Tom Rich, an NMU English graduate student and member of the One Book, One Community selection committee, said that the purpose of the program is to foster a closer relationship between the university and the city of Marquette by reading and discussing a common book. He added that events like the author’s visit help strengthen that connection.

“It gets them in the same room (for Russell’s reading) at least, and it builds that relationship between the university and the community,” Rich said. “(Students) might meet some interesting people and have some good conversations. Community members get to see students, humanize the university and get that connection that might not otherwise be present.”

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Other activities prior to Russell’s visit have included a dinner and a movie event, a public discussion of the book at the Peter White Public Library and book group meetings. Rich said that several groups, such as Sigma Tau Delta, the Marquette-Alger Reading Commission and NMU’s Visiting Writers program worked together with the One Book, One Community organization to put the events together and bring Russell to Marquette.

Rich said that by attending the events and sharing the book with community members, NMU students are offered a unique reading experience.

“By virtue of having such a large pool of readers, it allows students to get a different perspective than they might have gotten in just one class. It’s enriching that way, and it can lead to a deeper experience,” he said.

“The Sparrow” is a piece of speculative science fiction written in 1996 that imagines an encounter between Jesuit missionaries and an alien race. The book’s main character is a priest named Emilio Sandoz who travels with a group to the alien planet, Rakhat.

Rich said that, while he is a fan of science fiction, it was important to pick a book that would be accessible to a larger audience.

“Because it’s One Book, One Community, you have to make sure that as many people as possible can read the book. You can’t pick “Finnegan’s Wake.” That’s just not going to work,” Rich said. “The sci-fi elements in the book are handled with a soft enough touch that it doesn’t put off those who don’t like sci-fi.”

“The Sparrow” is split into sections that feature Sandoz before, during and after the mission. Early on, the reader learns that something terrible occurred on the mission. The reader is then exposed to many complicated themes, sensitive topics and imaginative scenes while the narrative unveils what

happened to Sandoz on Rakhat.

Dana Schultz, a manager at Snowbound Books and the co-chair for the One Book, One Community selection committee, said that one of the most attractive elements of the book for her was the relationship between the different cultures.

“What appealed to me is the idea of how cultures interact and the assumptions we make when we meet a group of people. (“The Sparrow”) just sort of turns all that on its head,” she said. “I think it really touches on how communities interact with each other. It is about stepping into a separate community, and even with the best of intentions, there is arrogance there. That is what messes everything up.”

Schultz said that there is a challenge in getting people to look past “The Sparrow’s” premise and into the deeper messages of the book.

“As soon as you mention Jesuits and outer space, people throw this wall up and say, ‘No. I don’t want to go there.’”

Schultz said that while the book does delve into complicated issues like the existence of free will, “it’s not overly Christian, it’s about having faith in general.”

Ray Ventre, head of NMU’s English department, said the complicated way that “The Sparrow” addresses issues like religion and race are exemplary of what makes a book a good selection for the One Book, One Community program.

“One of the benefits has been an involvement with students, staff and community members, and a discussion of not only a piece of literature that they have in common, but also a piece of literature that raises a number of questions and themes that need to be addressed,” he said.

Ventre said that one of the most significant changes that he has seen in the program came when the committee was able to bring authors to campus, like when Tim O’Brien, the author of last year’s selection, “The Things They Carried,” came to Marquette.

“That generates a huge amount of interest and involvement when you know that the author is going to be here to discuss their vision and what matters to them,” Ventre said. “It really created a much clearer connection for the separate entities, because you have a central event that they can attend.”

Ventre said that “The Sparrow” offered a unique opportunity for the university, because it focuses on topics in fields like biology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, history and political science. This allows for students and teachers in other fields to incorporate “The Sparrow” into their own curriculums and to be an active part of the program.

“It’s not an English project, it’s a university project,” he said.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the book, Ventre said, is that it challenges readers and the community, to look at themselves more deeply.

“There is a perception of self: what makes us human?” Ventre said. “There is a question of social justice: what is an honorable way to treat other beings? Those questions arise, and those are questions that need to be addressed by a variety of different disciplines.”

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