By Gabrielle Rente
Elm Staff Writer
Like the freshmen class before them, the class of 2020 was assigned a summer reading before officially stepping foot on campus to start a new chapter. This year’s summer read was “Ways to Disappear,” the first novel by poet and translator Idra Novey.
The story begins when the acclaimed Brazilian author, Beatriz Yagoda, takes a suitcase and a cigar into an almond tree before mysteriously disappearing. In her wake she leaves a massive amount of debt to a loan shark who threatens to deliver carnage if he isn’t paid. Hearing the news, Beatriz’s American translator, Emma Neufeld, takes one glance at her monotonous life in snowy Pittsburgh before booking the next flight to Rio de Janeiro. There, she conspires with the author’s children to fulfill the demands of the loan shark and Yagoda’s washed-up editor and in the process they discover how little each of them know about the author.
There are various opinions of the book floating among the freshmen body, and even questions as to what the story has to do with transitioning to college. The college websites states, “The enduring values of Washington College -critical thinking, effective communication, and moral courage -move the world…These are the ideas at the heart of the Class of 2020’s first year book…”
When asked if she thought the book had prepared her for the WC experience, freshman Mary Clare Culloty said, “I don’t think it necessarily prepared me for anything. It didn’t give me any extra tools that I necessarily needed. I did think that it pointed out the importance of language and word choice.”
In response to the question of why he thought the freshman class was assigned the book, Max Lambert, a student from Maine, said, “I assumed it was [assigned] because it talks about different cultures… [and] cultural perception which one might experience if they come from, say, Maine and moved down here and how people might interact and behave differently.”
Last Saturday, freshmen met with their Peer Mentor groups to discuss the book with a staff or faculty member. Sophomore and Peer Mentor Karis Marano said, “I thought our book discussion went along really well, a lot better than the book discussion my freshman year. I think a lot of things in the book are relatable to college…I was really relating to Emma because I feel like when I came to college, I was trying to try everything, making mistakes along the way…and I think that’s what [Emma] struggled with…trying to navigate Brazil and finding her place.”
Despite how Peer Mentors enjoyed the novel, many freshmen had opposing thoughts in discussion. Sophomore and Peer Mentor Alex Kincaid said, “I thought stylistically [the book] was a lot different, which I think it’s a good thing to get the first-years right away into something different and totally new, but at the same time it frustrates the first-years.”
Senior and Peer Mentor Alex Roberts commented on components he wished were included in his discussion, “I thought the book itself was good especially when it came to personal relationships with people and analyzing your relationships with others… And I wish that that element had come out more in our discussion.”