Duke’s 2015 summer reading selection is poised to generate “interesting discussion” when the freshmen arrive on campus this August.
“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel was chosen by the Duke Common Experience selection committee—a group composed of faculty, students and staff—for first-years to read during the summer. The book is a graphic memoir that deals with weighty topics such as suicide, sexual identity, death and abuse, and it will serve as a focus of conversation during the Class of 2019’s orientation week. The decision came after the committee debated six other final selections.
“I was hesitant at first to support it as a welcoming text to Duke University,” said junior Ibanca Anand, a committee member. “Then I realized how critical these discussions are for so many of us, and it's important that we establish this school as a place that is open and unafraid to talk about things that affect people."
She said the committee’s decision was not as easy as last year when “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was selected unanimously.
“Fun Home” follows the story of Bechdel’s childhood as she comes out as lesbian and finds out that her father was gay. After his apparent suicide, she embarks on a process of reflection and discovery that leads to revelations about her father and her relationship with him. In its review, the New York Times called it “a comic book for lovers of words.”
Members of the selection committee noted that some may perceive the book as controversial because it contains nudity and sex and delves into tough topics.
“Parents may have more issues with the book than incoming students, who for the most part have been exposed to these difficult issues as a part of their education,” wrote Simon Partner, professor of history and director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute, in an email.
Anand said she has only heard enthusiastic support from those who have read the book.
“Fervent activism and standing up for what we believe is right has become a crucial part of Duke's identity, and ‘Fun Home’ fits right in with all of this,” she said.
From a list of faculty, staff and student recommendations for summer reading books, six finalists were chosen by the committee, including "Fun Home". The other finalists under consideration were “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace” by Rye Barcott, “Red” by John Logan, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt and “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr.
A special printing of "Fun Home" will be mailed to incoming students this summer, and the book will be discussed in both small and large group settings during orientation week.
"'Fun Home' may be difficult for some students, but shying away from some of the issues it raises about identity, independence, relationships, violence and sexuality would be even more serious," said Laura Lieber, associate professor of religious studies, who was also on the committee. "The book will start a discussion, not end it."
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Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.