(Posted June 14, 2002)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- For the third year in a row, Juniata College has asked its incoming freshman class, the rest of its student body, its faculty, all of the college's other employees and interested members of the community around Huntingdon to read a book or two for the summer.

The college committee charged with selecting the reading chose two novels and a memoir for participants to read. Two of the books, the memoir "The Road from Coorain," by Jill Ker Conway, and the novella "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," by Thornton Wilder, will be part of a community discussion event in September at the college. The third book, "The Handmaid's Tale," by Margaret Atwood, also is part of the program.

"Because our reading program is an invitation, not an assignment, we thought that participants should be free to choose the book or books that sound most interesting to them," explains Sarah May Clarkson, director of academic services. "Both the 'Road to Coorain' and 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' are very much about fate and how a person determines their future, so we are looking forward to a lively discussion in the fall."

Clarkson says wide-ranging book discussions in communities are becoming more common. Seattle has sponsored a citywide reading project for the last five years and last year Chicago readers tackled Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Juniata students are not required to read the book and participate in the discussion, although Clarkson says. "This year's books will be used for some assignments in Juniata's College Writing Seminar classes. "I don't want the reading program to be something to grind through," she says.

"The Road from Coorain" is Conway's remembrance of growing up on a sheep farm in Australia's Outback and enduring the death of her father and a brother during her family's attempt at building a business in the country's harsh environment. The story also is centered on Conway's growing awareness of the constraints facing her in building a career.

Conway was born in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia and graduated from the University of Sydney in 1958. She is a noted historian and was named the first woman president of Smith College in 1975. Since 1985, she has been a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The novella "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" examines the tragedy of a bridge collapse in Peru, narrated by a witness to the event. The author, Thornton Wilder, received a 1927 Pulitzer Prize for the book. He also is author of the classic plays "Our Town" and "The Skin of Our Teeth."

"The Handmaid's Tale" is set in a future that describes a society where women are seen as little more than servants and breeding machines. Author Margaret Atwood has written many other acclaimed novels, including "Alias Grace" and her most recent, "The Blind Assassin."

All three books are available at the Juniata College Bookstore.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.