“The Round House” set for 2014 summer reading

“The Round House” by Louise Erdrich, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, will be the 2014 summer reading book for incoming students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A nine-member selection committee of students, faculty and staff selected the book from five finalists. The story, which takes place on a Native American reservation in North Dakota, won the 2012 National Book Award for fiction.

Minrose Gwin, Kenan Eminent Professor of English and chair of the committee, said that “The Round House” was selected because of its dual focus on a current issue facing Carolina and other campuses nationwide – sexual assault – and on a less familiar topic: the lingering effects of injustices embedded in Native American history.

“Louise Erdrich’s award-winning novel is a riveting encounter with a number of raw and resonant issues in American culture, particularly concerning rape — its ubiquity in our culture and its pernicious, long-term effects not only on victims, but on their families and communities,” said Gwin.

“Erdrich further exposes a national amnesia around the history of Native peoples and raises compelling questions about our legal systems and their failures. The novel is written from a young person’s perspective, and Erdrich’s 13-year-old protagonist must confront the question of what to do when legal remedies fail, the question of justice versus retribution. In the end, this is a book that leaves us with questions, not answers, about the ethics of social justice.”

New first-year students who will enroll next fall are expected and encouraged to read the book this summer and participate in small group discussions on the Monday before classes start in the fall. The program, in its 16th year, 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.

The other four finalists were: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” by Katherine Boo; “Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America” by Jonathan Kozol; “Firebird: A Memoir” by Mark Doty; and “Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—And How We Can Fight It” by David Batstone. The committee considered fiction and nonfiction .

Since the program began in 1999, it 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; “Picking Cotton” by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton; “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer; “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr; and “Home” by Toni Morrison.

Read more about the UNC Summer Reading Program and the book.

Published Feb. 19, 2014.