George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

‘Wild Ones’ a natural fit for Mason Reads program

August 22, 2016   /   by Cathy Cruise

A bear. A bird. A butterfly.

Author Jon Mooallem spotlights these three creatures in a book that will be read and discussed by all incoming freshmen at George Mason University this fall.

Bearing the quirky title of “Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America,” Mooallem’s book centers on sustainability and conservation—the theme of this year’s Mason Reads program.

Mason Reads was launched in 2013 by the Division of University Life’s Off-Campus Student Programs and Services to provide a campuswide common reading experience. All incoming Mason students were instructed to read the novel before they begin classes this month, and the book will be incorporated into courses and events throughout the university. It will also be featured at Mason’s Fall for the Book festival when Mooallem takes the stage at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 29 in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall.

As its title suggests, “Wild Ones” is an original, thoughtful, troubling narrative that offers an altogether new way of looking at nature and the people involved in the natural world. Emilie Dubert, associate director for Mason’s Off-Campus Student Programs and Services, and a Mason Reads organizer, believes this particular book should inspire students to effect change. Although past Mason Reads book choices have sparked conversation, “this year people are really going to be encouraged to think about their personal sustainability and how they can make a difference in the environment and in the Mason community,” she said.

“Wild Ones” was chosen based on the response the Honors College received when it featured the book for its common read program two years ago. “Additionally, since Fall for the Book is involved,” Dubert said, “they were able to get Jon Mooallem to come. So it all came together.”

In conjunction with the book, students will take a trip to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and will watch the film “Virunga,” a British documentary about the fight to protect gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Organizers also have been working with the Office of Sustainability and the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation to promote sustainability-related activities and curriculum. Students are encouraged to explore Mason’s “green leaf” programs and courses, for instance—ones that focus on learning about meeting our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Mason offers more than 125 green leaf courses and around 25 green leaf academic programs. Students are encouraged to explore scholarships through the Office of Sustainability, and to find different ways to connect to conservation efforts on campus, such as the Presidents Park Greenhouse.

Dubert said the Mason Reads program gives students a sense of community as they begin their college journey. Reading the same book, she said, provides a common touchpoint for students with different backgrounds and majors, coming from different parts of the state or country.

“And it sets the academic mood for the year that Mason is focused on students coming in prepared for college, and prepared to talk about and share ideas. It’s important for students to have a common foundation both in and out of the classroom.”