While first-year university students quickly become immersed in required reading, it's not often than an award-winning novel finds its way into the pile of academic texts.
Unless you're at the University of Canberra.
This year, all commencing students and all general and academic staff were given a free copy of Jasper Jones – a novel by Australian author Craig Silvey.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education, Professor Nick Klomp, was behind the idea of a “university novel” which he said had been a resounding success and will become an annual event.
Now a panel of judges, including the ABC's influential film reviewer Margaret Pomeranz, will consider a shortlist of books to decide the UC Book of the Year for 2014.
“What I look for in either a film or a book is to be transported into a believable world that in some way enlightens me about life, love, history – the whole catastrophe. And the shortlisted books in the University of Canberra book project have all done that in some way. It's a joy to be part of it. My world has been expanded,” she said.
“Reading a book can be a very personal experience, but sharing it and talking about it makes it more rewarding, and this is what I really like about the University of Canberra book project.”
Professor Klomp said 3000 copies of Jasper Jones had been distributed across the campus at a cost to the university of about $50,000. Electronic copies were also able to be downloaded for free.
“In terms of the student experience, if this book helps even a handful of our students to feel more engaged with the university community, helps them break the ice with other students or staff, or inspires them in some way, we reckon it is worth it.”
Feedback on the book – which has been the subject of lunchtime open readings and online forums – had been overwhelmingly positive, Professor Klomp said.
The idea is not new, with almost 300 universities around the world promoting a university novel.
Professor Klomp said the UC had taken things further by requiring students to read the novel and for it to be woven into their courses.
For example, Government Business Relations first-years were asked to consider the issue of discrimination against one of the characters in the small Australian town in which the novel is set, and to prepare a presentation on whether government or business is responsible for eliminating this sort of discrimination in the workforce.
Up to 2000 copies of the book are expected to be distributed in second semester.
Meanwhile, we can reveal the shortlist for next year's novel which has been drawn from books that have been Commonwealth Prize Winners in the last three years.
The shortlist for this year:
• Chinaman, by Shehan Karunatilaka
• The Dubious Salvation of Jack V, by Jacques Strauss
• The Memory of Love, by Aminatta Forna
• Room, by Emma Donoghue
• The Town That Drowned, by Riel Nason
UC will announce the winner next month before placing a large order with the publisher.