Labeled a “tragicomic” memoir, Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical novel "Fun Home" has been selected as Duke University's Class of 2019 Common Experience summer reading book.
Published in 2006, this bestselling graphic book follows Bechdel’s relationship with her father, an English teacher and director of a funeral home, which she and her family call the “Fun Home.” Later, when Alison comes out as lesbian, she discovers her father was also gay, leaving Alison with a “legacy of mystery” to solve.
“'Fun Home’ is a book like no other. The author uses the unique graphic medium to tell a story that sheds a lot of light on important and weighted issues like mental health, interpersonal relationships and human rights, all critical issues that students will become acquainted with in college,” said Ibanca Anand, a student member of the Duke Common Experience selection committee.
“The book is a quick read but not an easy one; it made me uncomfortable at times, which I think is one of the most telling reasons why it's so important for students to read,” Anand added. “It has the potential to start many arguments and conversations, which, in my opinion, is an integral component of a liberal arts education.”
The Duke Common Experience Program is designed to give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of their class, with the summer reading choice as a key focal point. During orientation welcome week activities, students will discuss the book in small groups and as a larger community as part of their evening at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
The selection committee is comprised of students, staff and faculty.
“Every year we compile a list of Common Experience opportunities recommended by faculty, students and staff, and discuss the merits of each option. After a few rounds of readings and conversations, our committee reduces the list to five or six experiences,” said Jordan Hale, director of New Student Programs and co-chair of the selection committee. “We then reach out to the Duke community for their feedback.”
In addition to “Fun Home,” this year’s finalists included:
▪ “All the Light we Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr
▪ “It Happened on the Way to War,” Rye Barcott
▪ “Red,” John Logan
▪ “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics ad Religion,” Jonathan Haidt
▪ “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains,” Nicholas Carr
“I think it will be a great vehicle for conversations among the incoming class about art and storytelling; about personal and sexual identities; about truth and lies, and the harm both can cause; and about judgment and forgiveness,” said selection committee member Simon Partner, a professor of history and director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke.
“Because of its treatment of sexual identity, the book is likely to be controversial among students, parents and alumni. I think this, in turn, will stimulate interesting and useful discussion about what it means, as a young adult, to take a position on a controversial topic,” he added.
A special printing of the book will be mailed this summer to members of the Duke Class of 2019.
Past summer reading selections include “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann and “A State of Wonder” by Ann Patchet.