"Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer will be the 2011 summer reading book for incoming students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.
On Monday, a 21-member selection committee of students, faculty and staff from both universities chose the book from six finalists. Students on the committee described "Eating Animals" as an even-handed review of the food industry - not a campaign for vegetarianism.
Priya Bhat, a Duke senior from Nashville, Tenn., said that "Eating Animals" was her top choice. "For me, it's not just a book about food," she said. "It's a book about being really active in making your own decisions."
The schools will ask new students who will enroll next fall to read the book this summer and participate in small group discussions during orientation or soon thereafter. The program aims to stimulate critical thinking outside the classroom and give new students intellectual common ground. An academic icebreaker, it encourages students to engage with the scholarly community and come to their own conclusions about the material.
Administrators at the two universities decided to consolidate their programs for the first time this year to further strengthen ties between the neighboring campuses. Schools typically ask authors of their summer reading books to speak on campus during orientation or soon thereafter, and the geographic proximity of Duke and Carolina may make that an easier proposition. This is UNC's 13th year with a program and Duke's 10th.
"‘Eating Animals' (Little, Brown & Co., 2009) is a narrative that compiles a lot of research about food in general," said Aviv Sheetrit, a Carolina senior from Cary. "(Foer's) able to present his information as a body of objective research in regard to our relationship with food."
Elizabeth Behar, a UNC senior from Henderson, said she thinks all students will be able to relate to the book.
Nathan French, a Duke senior from Pittsford, N.Y., said, "It brings up something that isn't often talked about. There are a lot of good discussion points."
Donna Lisker, Duke associate vice provost for undergraduate education and adjunct faculty member in women's studies, and UNC summer school dean Jan Yopp, Walter Spearman Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, chaired the committee. Work began last fall, when nominations were solicited - at UNC, from campus, and at Duke, from campus, alumni and parents. UNC heard from 427 people who nominated 316 books; 115 people nominated 77 titles at Duke, said UNC staffer Shandol Hoover. Of the total of 393 books suggested, 24 were nominated at both schools.
The other five finalists were "The Sea" by John Banville; "Shopclass As Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford; "The Dew Breaker" by Edwidge Danticat; "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot; and "Losing My Cool" by Thomas Chatterton Williams. The committee considered fiction and nonfiction, and the finalists were a mixture of the two.
Since its inception in 2002, Duke's summer reading program has featured "The Palace Thief" by Ethan Canin; "Savage Inequalities" by Jonathan Kozol; "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder; "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini; "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult; "The Best of Enemies" by Osha Gray Davidson; "What is the What" by Dave Eggers; "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz; and "Everything Matters" by Ron Currie Jr.
Since it began in 1999, UNC's program has featured "There Are No Children Here" by Alex Kotlowitz; "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz; "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman; "Approaching the Qur'an" by Michael Sells; "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich; "Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point" by David Lipsky; "Blood Done Sign My Name" by Timothy B. Tyson; "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri; "The Death of the Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions" by Sister Helen Prejean; "Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights" by Kenji Yoshino; "A Home on the Field" by Paul Cuadros; and "Picking Cotton" by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton.