Freshman discusses zombies in academics on national radio

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Beginning this semester, all incoming freshmen were required to read “World War Z.” On Sept. 10, St. Edward’s University freshman, Hayley Barone, spoke live on National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” with Max Brooks, author of the novel.

“Talk of the Nation” producers booked Brooks to speak on the show for a segment they produce each year about books chosen for common reading programs in universities across the country. Producers then looked for schools that were using Brooks’ books and found St. Edward’s.

“My supervisor did some searching. I think it was literally a quick Google search that said ‘freshman reads World War Z’,” said John Asante, a producer for “Talk of the Nation.” St. Edward’s is the only university that chose “World War Z” for a common reading program this year.

Barone was selected to speak on the show after she was recommended by an academic advisor.

“It all happened in one day,” Barone said.  “I get an e-mail at 11 a.m., 10 minutes after I’d woken up … ding! My iPhone refreshes, and it’s an e-mail from Jennifer Phlieger … I literally call her right away saying I’m interested.”

Following that phone call, Barone hurried to her back-to-back morning classes, giving her only about 20 minutes prep time for the interview.

“He said ‘okay, you’re next’, and they introduce me, and the rest is history. I was really nervous,” Barone said.

In the interview, Barone pointed out its unique vignette style. She also had the chance to ask Brooks some questions of her own about the “World War Z” movie and what Brooks found influential to the style of the book.

“It was only about fifty seconds, but I felt like I got a lot out of it,” Barone said.

While the tradition of assigning a certain book for each freshman class to read is common among many universities, the choice of “World War Z” is not. 

“It’s a Catholic university, and they chose zombies. It was a really cool move. I enjoyed the book. St. Ed’s hit the nail on the head,” Barone said.

Barone said the book tied in effectively with the themes in her Freshman Studies course. 

“They got it right with the dystopia and sustainability theme. It’s so relevant,” Barone said.

Not all the students share Barone’s enthusiasm, however. 

“It didn’t meet my expectations,” freshman Ariana Camara said. “I thought that it was going to be from a sociological point of view, more academic, and it ended up having traits similar to your teen horror movie. I thought that the writing wasn’t as good as I expected it to be–mediocre. Oh, and it scared me.” 

While Camara said she enjoys the idea of a common book, she thinks in the future the choice should be on a more academically focused book versus trying to relate it to pop culture.

St. Edward’s professor Alexandra Barron acknowledges the controversy in choosing “World War Z” as this year’s common read.

“It was a risky choice, some faculty are really excited, and other faculty do not think it is serious enough,” Barron said.

Barron said the book was a merging of interdisciplinary fields. She believed that “World War Z” would appeal to incoming freshmen.

“The topic of zombies is what our students are seeing in pop culture,”  Barron said. “It’s a chance to look at culture they were consuming in new ways.”

Barron said she understands where students like Camara are coming from, however.

“I can see a couple of different reasons… It looks very lightweight, I can understand, I would say to them though, that looking at pop culture is college work,” Barron said.

Barone said the book provided her with an interesting perspective on something others might dismiss as relatively empty pop culture.

“It is amazing how our cultures color how we respond,” said Barone. “It’s interesting to look at how our history colors what we’ve done and what we’re going [to do], especially to survive.” 

Brooks, the author of “World War Z,” will speak at the university for the Common Theme Lecture Oct. 10 in the Recreation and Convocation Center.