Sep. 4 (Thursday): Freshman Convocation
Late fall 2014: the annual Freshman Celebration
Photo blog: Postmortal Posts. The common reading program at USC (that's the University of South Carolina) hosts a student photo contest called "Picture Me Reading." Here is our campus-wide blog for photos of the book (and readers reading the book) at CSUN: Postmortal Posts: CSUN. Note that the 2013 common reading book at USC was The Postmortal.
Staged reading based on excerpts from The Postmortal. For more information: contact Dr. Ellyn Gersh Lerner.
CSUN Freshman Reading Choice Explores the Cure to Aging. CSUN Today, 7 July 2014.
Seeing Red in the Gene Pool by Matt McCann. Lens: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism. New York Times, 11 Jun 2014.
New Virus Related To Smallpox Is Found In Republic of Georgia. Michaleen Doucleff. Shots: Health News from NPR. 1 May 2014. Photo credit: CDC.
The College Course that's All about Death: An interview with Erika Hayasaki, author of The Death Class: A Story About Life. The Atlantic, 14 Jan 2014.
Plans for fall volunteer events linked to The Postmortal will be posted by Unified We Serve.
Use these free document viewers to read documents on this site.
We've had five book groups and I have started a list of names of people who missed them but want me to schedule one more this summer.
If you want to be notified about this last book discussion, please call CIELO at x6535 or contact me via email. I only need 5 more names... Or see "Postmortal Previews" just below.
March 7: you missed a great discussion with Catherine Givertz (AFYE/U100) but you can still read Catherine's handout
March 11: you missed another great discussion with Lindsay Hansen (Oviatt) but you can still read Lindsay's handout
April 21: and Stacey Bieber (English) had additional wonderful ideas which you can see if you read Stacey's handout
July 17: we had a big turnout for this session; here are Debbi's thought-provoking questions and project ideas, which sparked quite a vigorous discussion.
Overwhelmed by email? Awash in work? Longing for a break? Of course you are. But meanwhile, you have to eat lunch, don't you? Consider dropping by CIELO--with your lunch or not--for a 30-minute Postmortal Preview with me (Cheryl). We'll have coffee, tea, and light refreshments waiting for you, and I'll give you an overview/preview of The Postmortal--just enough information to help you decide whether you want to require it in a class, recommend it to friends and family, read it with a book group of your own, read it by yourself, or run for your life.
Update: the first previews are over (and were a lot of fun). Let me know if you'd like to come to a late-summer preview. I'll schedule one and invite everyone to join us.
Written in the form of blog posts, The Postmortal (Penguin 2011) tells the story of John Farrell beginning in the year 2019 when he decides to take the newly discovered "cure," a form of gene therapy that stops the aging process: his body will be twenty-nine until the end of his life. As the cure becomes widely available, enormous social changes sweep across the globe. The book raises moral and ethical questions about overpopulation, mortality, the environment, families, birth, marriage, death, interpersonal relationships, income inequality, and the role of government in the lives of the governed.
Drew Magary--the book's author--has written for Deadspin, NBC, Maxim, and Kissing Suzy Kolber, as well as GQ, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, ESPN, Yahoo!, Comedy Central, Playboy, and Penthouse.
The process of identifying resources has only just begun. If you find something you think we ought to include, do tell!
My thanks to the book group leaders and other colleagues who have contributed links and material so far: Stacey Bieber, Glenn Collins, Catherine Givertz, Lindsay Hansen, Andrea Hernandez, Matthew Jackson, Sharon Klein, Daisy Lemus, Debbi Mercado, Michael Neubauer, Martin Saiz, Ronit Sarig, Paul Schantz, Wayne Smith, and Derek Tang. (If your name should appear here but doesn't, I obviously goofed. Let me know so I can make amends and add you to the list.)
How? Use the book for Project Text or Project Web.
Why? Derek Tang (Asian American Studies) offers these good reasons:
You, too, can isolate DNA. And it's easy to do, as Scientific American explains in Squishy Science: How to Extract DNA from Smashed Strawberries. (Thanks to CSUN professor Mary-Pat Stein for this resource.)
Note to faculty: please send me your idea(s) for discipline-based talking points. The idea here is to suggest how you might reference The Postmortal in your classes even though you're not assigning it. An obvious possibility: display the book in your office. (Send me a picture with your office location and your name and I'll add it to the new photo blog: Postmortal Posts: CSUN. (Optional: send a selfie: you and the book in your office.)
ANY discipline: "Have you read The Postmortal? Are you going [Did you go] to see the author speak at Convocation?"
Athletics: "I have no problem with players taking the cure and breaking records and all that....And the never-ending influx of long-lasting talent (thanks to the cure) will make the game better than ever. But one thing that does concern me is how we're going to quantify success from this day forward.....It's just the cure forcing us to redefine the notion of excellence." (110) Many sports have changed significantly because of technology. Should we "have no problem" with that?
Anthropology: in the postmortal world, what is a family? " You become a parent, and your whole life becomes about worrying. You just worry constantly....And the idea that I'll be worried forever about them and what they do . . . I almost have a panic attack when I think about it. . . .Do I have the ability to keep my husband happy for centuries upon centuries?"(58-9)
Biology: the cure involves a virus that recodes a piece of DNA: "this involves . . . taking a sample of your DNA, then finding and altering--or, more precisely, deactivating---a specific gene in your DNA, and then reintroducing it into your body through what's known as a vector, or a carrier" (7). Is this science? Fiction?
Business and Economics: examine entrepreneurial activities in the book such as the marketing of grails; the new industry of cure ceremonies in Las Vegas; the new job category of end specialists; the price of bottled water; the effect of scarcity on food prices....
Child & Adolescent Development: "What do we do with Baby Emilia?" (116-122).
Communication Studies: "Need a little more breathing room? Try once-a-day Claustrovia. Claustrovia is the first prescription drug ever medically proven to help treat symptoms stemming from overcrowding anxiety disorder (OAD). . . . Ask your doctor if Claustrovia is right for you. Claustrovia is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing. Children under eight should not take Claustrovia......" (281-2).
Criminology: Texas decides to "step to the forefront of innovation in law enforcement in the postmortal world" by passing Darian's Law, which permits Texas to expand the death penalty to various prisoners whose crimes have resulted in a life sentence. "There are only two fiscally smart things to do with some of these prisoners: kill them or let them go" (153-4). You can see the problem: prisoners, too, are not aging. Other states suggest other approaches: "officials in Oklahoma have considered implementing a delayed death sentence, which would mandate the execution of any state prisoner over the true age of eighty-five, regardless of cure age" (154).
CTVA: "Endcasts are an extra hundred dollars" (190). What are the limits of reality TV anyway? Also: Which media sources will be dominant in another few decades? Does Magary have it right?
Education: "[The kids] don't want to finish high school....I read about how all the college enrollments are way down" (157-8).
English: this is a novel by a practicing writer. Run with it. Also: a famous line by American poet Wallace Stevens asserts that "Death is the mother of beauty." Discuss.
Epidemiology: late in the book, "an outbreak of an unknown illness" in Virginia begins to spread rapidly throughout the country (288ff.). Over the next 20 years, the so-called sheep flu kills "over one hundred million Americans and five hundred million people worldwide" (298). What causes epidemics? How realistic is this one? What precautions could world health organizations take now to prevent something like sheep flu from spreading today? One of the main reasons for conducting epidemiology is to determine risk factors for disease and high-risk populations so that prevention/control is possible. Are there certain people in the population who are at higher risk for sheep flu? What are the probable causes for sheep flu?
Family and Consumer Sciences: "Three weeks ago I helped our firm devise a lucrative new type of prenuptial agreement....It's a forty-year marriage. Set in stone. No divorcing allowed without significant penalties, . . . with the marriage automatically dissolving at the end of that period and the assets divided at a previously agreed-upon percentage. The couple could then pick up an additional forty-year option if they wished" (80).
Gerontology: What would it mean to stop the aging process?
History: John's blog is discovered by accident. How is history written, and by whom? And: how would "spending the next decade reading history books" (252) persuade someone to join the Church of Man?
Journalism: Magary is a journalist and The Postmortal includes fictional interviews, articles, blog posts, broadcast transcripts, and news stories. Mention one; have your students identify various generic hallmarks of an excerpt you post on Moodle.
Library (information competence): how do you evaluate the worth of competing news sources on a given topic?
Linguistics: the book invents many new terms ("end specialist") and includes many examples of American Regional English. How and why does language change?
Political Science: The president reverses his ban on the cure after just three years (66-69). Why did he forbid the cure for those younger than 26? What might be the policy justification for treating people differently based on their age? Are older people more valuable to society? Are younger people more expendable? What might be the Constitutional justification for differentiating people in this way? AND: the pro-death activists use violence to promote their position on the cure. Why? What similarities do you see (if any) between the radical pro-death activists and similarly radical anti-abortion activists?
Psychology: "so-called Peter Pan cases, like that of Emilia Burkhart" (120). Discuss.
Religious Studies: "When I was a kid, I saw religion as insurance against death. . . . I wonder if we've completely flipped the script on that now. I wonder if the cure represents insurance against religion" (13-4). Also, the Church of Man (130-134); and the Church of the Black Man (203).
Sociology: reference the book's foregrounding of youth culture. Many minor characters are identified as members of a group: Greenies, bankers, lawyers, and so on. And if you're a gerontologist, the book has quite a lot to say about aging, including this: "I don't think most people die natural, peaceful deaths....All the loved ones I've seen die have been sick, frail, and helpless" (9). Also: "citizens who get the cure will no longer be eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits, regardless of how long they live" (68).
Sustainability: "We must consider the impact that . . . longevity will have . . . on the large yet delicate planet we call home" (66). "While we may now have a virtually unlimited lifespan, our natural resources almost certainly do not...we have been consuming resources at an unsustainable rate" (67).
Beginning in February 2014, CSUN faculty and staff may request a free copy of The Postmortal from Cheryl Spector (send an email with your campus mail drop code). In return, each recipient agrees to speak about the book with at least one new CSUN freshman in summer or fall 2014. Short conversations will satisfy the terms of this agreement so long as the conversation includes a reference to the book (and perhaps a mention of Freshman Convocation).