New Student Orientation (NSO) came to a close Sunday evening with the annual Three Books program featuring authors Anne Fadiman, Tracy Kidder and Joyce Carol Oates. The three texts were chosen by Debra Satz, a philosophy professor, and mailed to the Class of 2014 over the summer. Satz moderated the discussion held in Memorial Auditorium, with a simulcast next door in Pigott Theater.
In her opening remarks, Satz said she chose this year’s texts because of the fundamental moral questions they raise.
“It is both a challenge and imperative to understand other people,” she said.
She also raised another common theme from the books: the question of which moral obligations humans have to one another.
Each text, Satz added, carries a sense of hope within tragedy. Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” tells the story of a Hmong girl with epilepsy and the miscommunication between her family and well-meaning doctors in Merced, Calif.
Oates described her work, “The Undesirable Table,” as an experimental story dealing with the human desire to be loved coupled with a fear of loneliness. It also deals with the denial of class in America<\p>–<\p>without particularly “casting aspersions on America,” she said, since the surreal story could take place anywhere.
In “Strength in What Remains,” Kidder tells the true story of a refugee from Burundi who, after fleeing to New York and living homeless in Central Park while working to deliver groceries, eventually endured to find his way to medical school and to return to open a clinic in Burundi.
The three authors each discussed the accidental origins of their works, their roles as storytellers and their feelings of obligation to tell the stories of the disenfranchised, whether through journalistic writing or fiction.
Both Fadiman’s and Kidder’s works offer glimpses of different cultures, while Oates’ short story challenges the reader to consider the human predicament through a tragic twist.
“The books were very educational in a world-view sense,” said Kemar England ’14. “To get that insight was very beautiful.”
After a series of questions from Satz, freshmen asked the the authors their own questions and explored the common themes among the works.
“I thought the authors all shared a common ground and could relate to one another, which made the discussion more meaningful,” said Victoria Virasingh ’14. The event “wasn’t as shocking or impactful as Faces or Discover Stanford,” she said. “However, the themes in these books reminded us why we’re here and what we hope to accomplish.”
Some freshmen, including Katie Sandling and Kristy Henrich, were left with a desire to read the rest of Oates’ collection, “Will You Always Love Me?”
Others appreciated hearing how each author approaches the art of writing.
“I enjoyed the insights into the actual writing process,” said Robin Woodby ’14.
Vanessa Gallegos ’14 and Ellen Encisco ’14 were simply grateful to have such close proximity to the authors. “It’s cool that we can come here and be in the same room,” said Encisco.
The annual Three Books discussion offered each member of the Class of 2014, as Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising Julie Lythcott-Haims ‘89 said in her closing remarks, a chance “to open your mouth [and] ask your own question.” Lythcott-Haims encouraged freshmen to continue this process at Stanford and “wring every drop out of what we offer you.”