"State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett has been selected as the summer reading book for incoming students in Duke University's Class of 2016.
A 15-member selection committee comprised of students, faculty and staff chose the book from five finalists.
Students on the committee described "State of Wonder" as bringing together a diverse array of issues, including anthropology, student-teacher relationships and medical ethics. Part scientific thriller, part engaging personal odyssey, the novel traces the steps of a 42-year-old pharmacologist whose works takes her to a Brazilian jungle.
"From our list, I found it to be the book that best presented multiple topics for discussion," said committee member and Duke sophomore Madison Moyle. She added that she "envisions the incoming freshmen to be wholeheartedly consumed by this novel and can foresee great conversation associated with the novel."
A summer reading selection is designed to create a common touchpoint for incoming students. The book will be used as a part of the orientation welcome week activities, which will include small group discussions and perhaps a visit from the author. Goals of the summer reading program include providing an "intellectual shared experience outside the classroom" and prompting "stimulating debate and lively discussion."
"Students will find a touchstone for many of the experiences they will have at Duke over the next four years within this selection," said Donna Lisker, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and adjunct faculty member in women's studies.
In addition to the strength of the novel, several committee members noted the character and strength of the author. Sara Seten Berghausen, librarian for literature and theater studies, noted that "Ann Patchett has shown a commitment to literary voices in all their diversity."
Hwansoo Kim, assistant professor in the department of religion, and Clay Adams, director of new student programs, co-chaired the committee work. Administrators began work on selecting the summer reading last fall, when nominations were solicited from the Duke community.
Seventy-seven submissions were received, yielding 70 unique titles. The committee considered fiction and nonfiction, and the finalists were a mixture of the two. The other four finalists were:
-- "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave;
-- "Little Princes: One's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal" by Conor Grennan;
-- "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University" by Kevin Roose; and
-- "Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America" by Paul Tough.
Previous choices for Duke's summer reading program, which started in 2002, include "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 Diaz; "Everything Matters" by Ron Currie Jr.; and "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Duke will mail a special edition of the summer reading book to incoming first-year students in early July.