Spending the summer with ‘The Idiot’

Incoming students in the undergraduate Class of 2023 will join many Brown faculty and staff in reading Elif Batuman’s first novel, the selected text for this year’s First Readings program.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Looking for something to supplement the beach reads on your summer reading list? As summer officially gets underway on June 21, many students, faculty and staff from across Brown’s campus — including all incoming undergraduates in the Class of 2023 — are turning the pages of “The Idiot,” the University’s selection for the 2019 First Readings program. The Idiot

A 2018 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, “The Idiot” is a thoughtful portrait of a young woman’s pivotal first year in college. Set in the mid-1990s, the book follows Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, as she observes and absorbs the world around her. Over the course of the year, she befriends charismatic classmates, corresponds with an older mathematics student and eventually travels to the Hungarian countryside to teach English — all while contemplating the nuances of expression and the crafting of one’s own narrative.

“’The Idiot’ explores liminal spaces and the uncertainty of adulthood as Selin comes to terms with herself and her place in the world,” said Dean of the College Rashid Zia in announcing the selection to the Brown community in June. “We are confident that ‘The Idiot’ will elicit lively and meaningful discussion among entering first-year students and their seminar leaders during the First Reading Seminars at Orientation.”

The book is the first novel from Elif Batuman, a writer and scholar known widely for her work in the New Yorker, which has explored subjects as diverse as Epictetus, dung beetles, a Turkish village’s women’s theatre group and the Japanese rental-relative industry.

First Readings is Brown’s annual summer reading initiative, in which a common reading experience introduces incoming undergraduates students to the University and to the rigors of academic life on College Hill. It culminates in small group discussion seminars guided by members of the Brown faculty during Orientation.

In addition, the Office of the Provost and the Staff Advisory Council offer a Staff Summer Readings program that offers 100 staff members from across the University the opportunity to read the book and participate in workshop discussions in August.

The First Readings selection committee selected “The Idiot” from a pool of texts from all periods, mediums and cultures that were suggested by members of the Brown community. This year’s committee included Zia and Linda Dunleavy from the Office of the Dean of the College; undergraduates Bella Cavicchi and Tanushri Sundar; faculty members Clyde Briant (engineering), Matthew Guterl (Africana studies and American studies) and Gary Wessel (biology); and postdoc Oladotun Ayobade from Africana studies.