Every year, administrators mail a selected work to incoming
Honors students, in hopes of promoting academic dialogue among them
when they arrive at the University. Honors administrators said they
are planning to make this year’s Honors book a more central
part of the program.
This summer, incoming students to the LSA Honors Program will
receive a copy of “Faster: The Acceleration of Just About
Everything,” by author James Gleick, to take along to the
beach or on a long family vacation.
University Honors administrators recently announced their choice
of the book, which explores the accelerating pace of modern
Honors Program Director, Stephen Darwall said students, faculty
and staff will have the opportunity to talk about the book in small
groups at Honors Kick-Off, which is held on Academic Day of Welcome
Week. “This year we’re going to work towards having a
much larger Honors Kick-Off and making a discussion of the book a
much more central part of the Kick-Off,” he said. “The
whole point we’re trying to get across in the Honors Program
is the value of intellectual community.”
Darwall, a philosophy professor, said he hopes to widen student
interest and promote intellectual discussion with the changes in
the Kick-Off. “In the recent past, (the book) hasn’t
had an obvious function in the program,” he said. “I
suspect fewer students read it than would have read it.”
Meanwhile, Honors Program Assistant Director Donna Wessel Walker
said she has considered the input of Honors students and feels the
revamped Kick-Off will be more beneficial to them. “Students
told us that they missed the opportunity to talk in a substantive
way about the book,” she said.
Wessel Walker said the Honors book program began in 2000 to
promote dialogue among new students. “We noticed some other
universities were sending books to freshmen; not as assignments to
give the freshmen but to make conversation easier and break the ice
when they got here,” she said.
The Honors book program began in the 2000 fall term with
“Through the Safety Net,” a collection of stories by
former University English Prof. Charles Baxter.
Wessel Walker said that the Honors program searches for a book
that will engage but not overwhelm incoming students. “What
we have looked for in the past is books that are substantial, but
not too heavy for summer reading, interesting and engaging, but not
too controversial or offensively partisan,” she said.
Darwall said a connection to the University has been important
in the past for choosing an author. “We were trying to
combine two things — a Michigan author who would be available
to talk to students at Honors Kick-Off,” he said. “The
other factor is to get interesting books that will be
thought-provoking and stimulate conversation.”
Gleick will visit the Honors Program as a DeRoy Visiting
Professor in the 2005 winter term. Although he will not be at this
fall’s Honors Kick-Off, he will teach a mini-course in the
Honor’s Program in the winter term.
Last summer’s book was a biography by University alum
James Tobin, who completed an Honors history concentration. The
book, “Ernie Pyle’s War,” detailed the personal
and professional struggles of a newspaper columnist during World
The program has had its share of hits and misses when selecting
Wessel Walker mentioned that the selection for 2001 —
“The Huron River: Voices from the Watershed,” edited by
University English profs. John Knott and Keith Taylor —
received a lukewarm response. “We got the most negative
responses to this book,” she said. She added that the
book’s subject did not engage many Honors freshmen.
“Kids coming to Ann Arbor don’t have much interaction
with the river,” she said.
Wessel Walker added that a book sent for summer reading sends a
strong statement about the Honors Program to incoming freshmen.
“We wanted to say we’re about books you read for
pleasure and the life of the mind,” she said