Common Reading Program

Summer Assignments

Message to New First-Year Students

You will receive a copy of Oryx and Crake during your Advising and Registration Day. You are expected to read the book during the summer and bring the book with you to campus in the fall semester.

There will be programming related to the book during New Student Orientation and Husky Kick-off (the first two weeks of school). In addition to programs related to themes of the book, over half of new students will use the book in one or more courses.

Below, please find some questions and material to support you in your exploration of the book during your summer reading experience and to help hone your critical reading skills.

“Reading is thinking. It is an active process of identifying important ideas and comparing, evaluating and applying them.” Kathleen McWhorter, Reading Across the Disciplines (2002)

Before you Read: Activate Prior Knowledge

  • What is a quest? What are some of its key elements? Can you think of any examples of quests?
  • Our society often focuses on achieving physical perfection and longevity. What are some of the ways this focus is evident? What are some of the consequences of this focus?
  • Many people living in the twenty-first century use technology on an almost constant basis. How do you use technology? How have new technologies changed the way you communicate? Have they changed the way you interact with others? Do you think these new technologies change your expectations for those interactions? If so, how?
  • If you want to learn about a new topic, what are the strategies you use to gather that information? Where do you go first?
  • Think about what it would be like to be one of a small number of survivors after a global catastrophe. What would you do? What skills could you draw on?

While You Read: Focus on Values and Look for an Interpretation       

The novel is not written in a chronological narrative.  The narrator, Snowman/Jimmy, moves through the tale following a sequence of significances, rather than temporal order.  If you find the sorting of the narrative into a temporal sequence useful, you can refer to this online timeline of Snowman/Jimmy’s life, created by SCSU alumna, Chelsea Christman:

  • Many people in Oryx and Crake seem obsessed with the quest for physical perfection, prolonged youth, and extreme longevity. What are some of the ways characters in the novel try to achieve this perfection? What do you think Atwood is trying to say by depicting this obsession?
  • Technology is highly advanced in the society in Oryx and Crake. How do different social classes use technology in different ways? How is technology used for good in the novel? For evil?
  • Characters in the novel have easy access to information - with just a few clicks, they can find anything that they want, including information that some might consider disturbing or dangerous. Should there be any limits to the kinds of information that people should be able to find? If so, who should set and enforce those limits? Is there any information that the characters of Oryx and Crake are unable to locate? If so, what? And what prevents them from finding it?
  • The Children of Crake are meant to be a new species that will not have the imperfections and attachments of our own nor repeat the mistakes we made. What are some of their particular challenges for survival? Is Snowman a help or hindrance to them?
  • Snowman discovers that despite himself, he's invented a new creation myth, simply by trying to respond to the "why" questions asked by the Children of Crake. In contrast, Crake claimed that "God is a cluster of neurons," though he'd had trouble eradicating religious experience without creating zombies.  What do these two moments suggest to you about the nature of spirituality and its evolution among cultures?
  • Here is a list of portmanteau words, which are made up of the parts of other words. What words are they assembled from: muppet, spork, and brunch. As you read, make a list of the portmanteau words that Atwood creates to refer to the products of the corporations. What words are they assembled from?
  • What associations do you have of the characters’ names? (Jimmy, Snowman; Glenn, Crake; Oryx; Eleanor Roosevelt; Abraham Lincoln)

After you Read: Reflect on What you Read

  • The ending of the novel is open, allowing for speculation by the reader as to the fates of Snowman, the Children of Crake, and the other humans. How do you envision Snowman’s future? How do you envision the future of the Children of Crake. What about the future of humanity—both within the novel, and outside its pages?

  • Atwood describes her writing as 'speculative fiction'.  Despite sounding far-fetched, everything Atwood describes has the potential to be reality; many things are currently being researched or could be developed using currently available research.  How does this shape your reading of the book?
  • In talking about her work as speculative fiction, Atwood suggests that her work is an exploration of the consequences of scientific research in our time, so imminently real. She explicitly wants to address the moral and societal implications of these scientific activities. Should literature be used in this way? Why or why not?
  • Where is the government in Oryx and Crake?

For more questions to guide your reading, visit the Common Reading Program website: