The Show Without An Audience

By Lane Hardy

There’s nothing which leaves you with an unpleasant feeling quite like the one you get when you see something good go to waste, when opportunities are lost. It’s like dropping toast butter side down on a dirty floor, or realizing how much food businesses throw out which could so easily go to those in need. It’s that feeling you get after re-evaluating your life choices as you look back at the past eight hours and realize you’ve spent the entire day binge watching some terrible show on netflix for reasons you can’t explain. Such a pity, what could have been.

I’ve been getting that feeling quite a bit lately.

Early in the semester I was turned on to a program run on campus, and since it’s my job to find the story, I dove in. I honestly didn’t expect to find more than some cheesey string of events put together begrudgingly by someone under professional duress. I’m a bit of a pessimist at times. To my delight, I found something very much the opposite.

You’ve probably seen the posters, whether you took note of them or not. They’ve been posted on ICC’s many notice boards which hang in its many winding, some might say, labyrinthian, hallways. A ted talk here, a book discussion there, some sort of presentation that caught your eye because you thought the poster looked flashy. What I’d bet you didn’t know, is that like some mysterious illuminati conspiracy, these events are all connected.

There is in actuality, nothing mysterious about it. It’s called One Book One College (OBOC), described on its webpage as, “A year-long, interdisciplinary program engaging the ICC community through the reading and discussion of a shared book.”

Michelle Nielsen Ott, ICC’s outreach and reference librarian, who also happens to lead the program explained to me that the goal is “Fostering interdisciplinary relationships through shared reading experience.”

That’s all a lot of fancy terminology to say that it’s a, big, strange, book club, thing, that’s trying to get people to take part in a conversation, and think. The main feature, known collectively as the between the lines events, challenges students and faculty to read and discuss literature at events. This years selected book is Paulo Coelho’s well known novel, “The Alchemist”, a story of adventure masterfully woven with a deep philosophical commentary which somehow manages to be simple and understandable for all audiences. I can tell you now, it’s worth a read.

It’s much more than a book club however. Each year there is a central theme, last year’s was citizenship, this year it’s persistence, and next year’s, (spoilers:) is joy. The theme is chosen by a committee composed of library staff and representatives from nearly every academic department, which is in part why the program has become so diverse. The slew of events which are creatively planned and executed by surprisingly passionate faculty, all follow this theme in one way or another. Ideally, each builds on the greater discussion shared by the community. Except, there hasn’t been much of one.

Despite that the events are completely free and fairly well advertised, student attendance has been, put politely, negligible. That’s not to say no one shows up, every event I’ve been to, I’ve been to most, has had a fair amount of interested faculty. In addition, there tends to be a small handful of students, who have been baited by the allure of extra credit, (almost) all of whom promptly bolt as soon as they fulfill the minimum requirements to get it.

It’s this apparent lack of interest which vexes me. I can’t say I’m surprised, having lived all my life in the sloth-like, mindless-entertainment-addicted, enthusiastically-unwilling-to-put-forth-effort-for-anything-that-doesn’t-involve-instant-gratification, society we’ve made for ourselves. It’s just that I can’t help asking myself what we’re all here at ICC for, if not to learn? I’m sure many people would answer, a degree, a job, expectations, but where is the longing for growth, the curiosity, the desire to engage in discussion, to test our opinions? Are these all things of the past?

I don’t think so. I think they are simply dormant, put to rest by arguably more pleasant distractions which certainly require less effort. I had the pleasure of meeting two students whom, despite initially attending for extra credit, feel the events to be worth their time.

Lita Davis, a business financing major who runs Cross Country at ICC, found herself attending a ted talk. It was her first event, she was there for the extra credit, and as such didn’t pay much attention. She didn’t plan on going to any others, yet when the opportunity arose once more, she did, perhaps for extra credit again, who could blame her, but this time her interest was piqued. She shared with me that the talk, which was on procrastination, made her realize that there was more to it than she thought.

“It actually makes you think more,” she said. “I went back and I was like oh my gosh, you know. I’m glad I did, because I think they’re interesting now.”

The presentations are far from boring, they are geared for modern audiences. Between the ted talks, movie screenings, and variety of discussion, there’s something for anyone willing to use that supercomputer in their skull which has gotten dusty from all the thoughtless hedonistic escapism they’ve been engaging in recently.

In a presentation on world-building and authority in fantasy literature, english and humanities professor Andrew Bonvicini valiantly pushed through a raspy-voiced illness to share a personal and well thought out perspective on personas in fantasy.

He commented afterwards, “The purpose of all BTL (Between The Lines) events like this is to take the idea of literature as something that we study, and try to transform into something that we engage in.” He said, “It’s about making something strange seem familiar.”

It was at this event that I met Kayelynn Guthman, a student writer who heard about the event from her literature professor.

When asked why she came she said, “It was partially for extra credit, partially because it’s really interesting that ICC does this at all.” She added, “I think it’s awesome. I think literature is the foundation of our society, … and getting people excited about reading is really important.”

I promise they didn’t pay me to write this, but to use one of my favorite cliches, don’t take my word for it. There are still many events coming up, and if you’re anywhere on campus chances are you’re less than ten feet from an internet connection, so google “one book one college at ICC” and check out the schedule. Pick one that appeals to you, or one that doesn’t, and try it out, you might be surprised.

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