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Book of the Year makes fiction required reading

Thursday 19 September

ACU
 
 

Trainee paramedics, aspiring lawyers and student maths teachers will be among those required to spend time reading a novel, under a new program at Australian Catholic University (ACU),which recognises the power of fiction to build empathy and improve psychological wellbeing.
The University will name a Book of the Year each year and will provide a free copy to every new student. First year courses across the university will draw on the cultural and social themes of the novel as a way of broadening student perspectives.

The Book of the Year for 2020 will be This Is My Song by Richard Yaxley, a three-generation family story of a grandfather who survives Auschwitz and whose grandson revives a song written before the war.

Chair of the Academic Board Professor Margot Hillel, who leads the program, said the book was chosen as a way of stimulating students to reflect on the year’s theme of ‘Hope’.

‘A good book will evoke an emotional response, as it asks readers to relate to the characters on the page and to live their lives vicariously. This Is My Song will do that for anyone who reads it,’ she said.

Professor Hillel said the decision to introduce a Book of the Year was central to ACU’s arts and culture initiative and reflected a desire to see the liberal arts sit at the heart of the University’s identity.

The initiative will bring to the fore the value of reading fiction, as a means to develop empathy, engage with the world and forge community.

‘It’s important that all students have a grounding in, and an understanding of, the liberal arts because it engages them with the humanity of people. There is evidence that shows that fiction-readers have higher degrees of empathy and that’s something we want for all our students.

‘If you are a health sciences student, for example, you are engaged with humanity on a physical level but reading fiction gives you an idea of the way other people think. It broadens your horizons and makes you aware of the individual worth of every person, which is very much aligned with ACU’s mission.’

An increasing body of evidence shows reading fiction increases empathy, improves pro-social behaviour and is beneficial for mental health. Reading fiction improves brain connectivity in regions associated with perspective-taking and story comprehension, setting readers up to have a better understanding of narratives of others’ lives.

Professor Hillel said the Book of the Year would also provide a point of connection for students across faculties, giving them a common experience and building community and culture across the university. Sharing reading experiences are specifically associated with improved psychological well-being.

The ACU Book of the Year program is a sales boon for the chosen novelist. About 10,000 books will be handed out during orientation, with both hard copy and e-book options available.
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