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The Silver Linings Playbook Creates Buzz on Campus

By Maia Livengood

October 2, 2010 — Matthew Quick Silver Linings PlaybookThis fall will mark the seventh anniversary of the Freshman Reading Program (FRP). First-time author Matthew Quick’s Silver Lining Playbook is this year’s selection, and the first novel to be chosen since the FRP’s inception (all others have been short stories or non-fiction).

The shared reading, which will be used in all foundation English courses, is intended to provide students from all disciplines with a collective intellectual experience.

“In a sense,” said Dr. Scott Warnock, director of the Freshman Reading Program, “it is the glue binding everything and everyone together.”

Warnock was a strong supporter of the Playbook selection, pointing out that its content was local in flavor and would integrate well with the university-wide initiative to develop meaningful connections to Philadelphia, beyond the campus community. In fact, the book delves into the peculiar local “fandom” phenomenon, an important aspect of the city’s identity. The timing with fall sports in Philadelphia will help frame some discussions, said Warnock.

But fandom is hardly the only basis for discussion in Playbook; it will likely also open up a dialogue about mental health and classical literature, as well as about family, friends, and partner relationships. For freshmen, who are entering a period of transition and perhaps changing some of those established relationships, the book may prove particularly significant.

In Playbook, the reader is first introduced to Pat Peoples, the narrator and protagonist, as he is discharged from a mental institution. Having undergone a personal trauma (revealed later in the novel), his memory is somewhat impaired, and the audience is privy to his personal struggles to reclaim his former life. This includes therapy, ritualistic exercising, relationship building, anger management and fandom—all while recognizing life’s “silver lining.” That degree of optimism and accessibility is one of the many reasons the FRP advisory committee found Playbook so appealing.

The multi-facetted nature of the book makes it an ideal choice for a variety of instructional media, too. Dr. Donald Riggs, an associate teaching professor of English, has developed a series of links, accessible through Bb Vista, that encourage students to research relevant psychological topics, and to then use their newly-acquired knowledge (or possibly confirmed knowledge) to assess aspects of Pat’s character and actions. Riggs has also incorporated YouTube to provide some context for the book’s many references to the music of Kenny G. In one discussion exercise for his hybrid course (taught both online and in person), Riggs asks students to listen to one of the songs and free write about any thoughts or feelings they encounter as they listen, addressing any automatic or “knee-jerk” responses and reflecting on their own social backgrounds.

Students will focus more on writing about their experience with the book, rather than their opinions of it. The engaging nature of these reflections will require them to think introspectively about the material. The demands of self-analysis can potentially improve the way students develop their ability to analyze texts in the future.

“At the very least,” said Warnock, “the book creates a vehicle. There is a lot to teach here, even if you didn’t like it. Did the coincidences bother you? Are you along for the ride?”

Matthew QuickIn conjunction with the FRP, the College of Arts and Sciences will sponsor a writing contest, as well as a free lecture by Quick on October 26th and 27th. Contest winners and runners-up will be invited to participate in a Master Class—a dozen or so Drexel freshmen with the best submissions will have the opportunity to meet and work with Quick in a face-to-face context, gaining valuable insight into their own writing. Additionally, Warnock and the FRP committee are working to increase the visibility of Playbook by tying it into other events on campus, such as symposiums and workshops, which draw a substantial body of students.

When weighing possible book choices for the FRP, the advisory committee has been most concerned with finding a text that will appeal to all Drexel freshmen, not solely English or liberal arts majors. Ideally, the hope is to find a work with which the majority of students can identify. The ten-person committee has thus developed a rigorous vetting process for each proposed work. After receiving suggestions throughout the academic year, the committee narrows the potential selections to five works by content and viability. Often, Warnock reflected, a committee member will become an advocate for one particular work, by identifying specific ways in which the selection will generate discussion and engage teaching material. In the case of Playbook, Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen was an early advocate, having met Quick through The Drexel Interview, and finding him to be both personable and charismatic—a perfect combination for the Master Class and larger student lecture.

For more information about the Freshman Reading Program or the essay contest, please visit http://www.drexel.edu/coas/news/readingProgram/.


Maia Livingood '12 is a Business Administration major with concentrations in Finance and Economics, as well as an English minor. Working for the College of Arts and Sciences, she has developed a strong interest in publication management and hopes to build upon the experience throughout her professional career.

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