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Why This Book?
Michele Moody-Adams
Michele Moody-Adams

In the Summer of 2007, Cornell’s incoming undergraduate class will read The Pickup, a novel published in 2001 by Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer. Much of Gordimer’s work has explored the political, psychological and moral complexities of South African racial apartheid. But the events of The Pickup are set in a post-Apartheid world in which the attraction between a wealthy South African woman and the illegal Muslim immigrant she meets when her car breaks down provides an opportunity for thinking about the sources of identity, the conditions for self-understanding and personal responsibility, and ultimately the possibilities for human freedom. The novel also invites us to reflect on the ethnic, cultural and class-related dimensions of “otherness,” while challenging our expectations about what it is to be a cultural “insider” or “outsider.” Along the way, we must reflect on the role of religion in human life, the importance of family, and the conflicts between responsibility and the satisfaction of human desire.

"The University’s main goals for the Reading Project include stressing the intellectual benefits of reading, and reminding students of the personal relationships they can have with a good book," said Michele Moody-Adams, and "some of the most striking scenes in The Pickup ably depict the richness and importance of these benefits and relationships." Some of the time the main characters spend together is time spent reading together: “She brings along books as well as food to these hours when they double the disappearance of his identity, they disappear together, this time, in the veld.” The woman in the couple watches her partner “while he is unaware of her—its one of the tranquil pastimes of loving: he reads as if his life depends on what is there.” (p. 35) In her own reading, the woman sometimes comes upon “a sentence, a statement, that seems to have been written for her long before she came into existence and came to this space in the time of her life.” (p. 35) "If one aim is to remind our students of the extraordinary pleasures of reading during this time in which technological innovations threaten to overwhelm those pleasures, it is hard to find a better expression of those pleasures than what we will encounter in reading Gordimer’s book," said Moody-Adams.

The Pickup has been widely recognized as an accomplished work of contemporary fiction. It was recently selected as a featured book for discussion by the Great Books Foundation, was awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was included on a shortlist for the 2001 Man Booker Prize.

Michele Moody-Adams
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Hutchinson Professor of Ethics and Public Life
Professor of Philosophy

 

Announcement of the selection for the 2007 Reading Project in the Cornell Chronicle:

'The Pickup' is reading project selection for 2007, Feb. 6, 2007