Book in common
After reading the same novel, landscape architecture students, faculty, staff prepare to meet its maker

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs



10 April 2002 | Inspired by the City of Chicago, which invited its residents to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” last summer, a group of students, faculty and staff in the College of Environmental Design are reading a so-called “book in common.”

Anne Michaels — author of the chosen novel, “Fugitive Pieces” — was so impressed with the project in Berkeley’s landscape architecture and environmental design department that she accepted an invitation from students to visit campus next week. From April 14 to 16, the University of Toronto creative writing teacher will do a reading from her book, attend a class in which students are sketching scenes from her novel, and explore Berkeley neighborhoods on a student-led tour.

“Fugitive Pieces” is a 294-page novel in which a young boy, scarred by his experiences during World War II, gradually reconnects with the world. The saga moves from Poland to Greece to Canada, creating links between memory, emotion and landscape.

The force of landscape
The “book in common” project was the idea of Helaine Kaplan Prentice, a guest lecturer in the department who heard about the Chicago experiment.

A landscape architect and author of books on gardens and architectural preservation, Kaplan Prentice was struck by the far-ranging natural resource issues — varying in scale from a plaza in downtown Oakland to a project encompassing the state of Alaska — in which members of the department were immersed. It occurred to her that a “book in common” about the affect of landscape on the human condition might inspire insights and help build a sense of unity.

She spread the word throughout the department to gauge interest, and received 65 suggestions for books with landscape content. Michaels’ novel was the nearly unanimous choice of the selection panel of students and faculty.

Students rejected easier books, saying that the events of Sept. 11 called for a serious book like Michaels’ novel about faith and love in the wake of the Holocaust.

The book “provides a long-term perspective on the landscape that will stimulate us to think beyond our immediate landscape focus,” wrote department chair Walter Hood, in a department-wide message last December.

Reading began over winter break. Participants included faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, librarians and the gardeners of the Blake Estate, home of the UC president.

Author’s visit
Next week, Michaels will attend a course on landscape and architecture and another on the urban design of Mexico City, and serve as a juror of student work.

Marcia McNally, professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning, said she and her students will lead Michaels, possibly by bicycle, through Berkeley neighborhoods such as Northside, Fourth Street and the south side of University Avenue, for a close look at landscape, architectural heritage and historical elements.

So far, said Kaplan Prentice, the project is proving that when you present a provocative book to creative people, “they will come up with original ways to use it.”


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail