Saturday, 14 February 2015 18:31

SUNY Oswego's Summer Read Illuminates Animal-Human Divide

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The Oswego Reading Initiative has chosen Karen Joy Fowler's PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" as the summer read for the SUNY Oswego and greater Oswego communities.

A book that reviewers describe as layered, funny and poignant, yet deeply human, the book takes on issues that cross academic disciplines and emotions: grief, love, ethics, scientific experimentation and animal rights, and what defines humanity, to name a few.

The story, as protagonist Rosemary Cooke says, starts in the middle. The 22-year-old narrator comes from what seems to be an ordinary enough 1970s Midwestern family with a father who is a psychology professor. But Rosemary is haunted by the disappearance of her brother and, years earlier, her sister, who was adopted under most unusual circumstances.

SUNY Oswego Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi, who chairs the 33-member campus-and-community ORI committee, said that among the more than 100 books the members reviewed, "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" reached perhaps the broadest consensus since ORI began in 2002.

"The first reason is its excellent writing," Mohammadi said. "In a higher education setting, we want to create the expectation that this is the kind of writing we think students should be encountering."

In a New York Times review, Barbara Kingsolver, herself a bestselling author, wrote that Fowler's novel is "so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get."

Fowler, widely known for the novel "The Jane Austen Book Club," deals with an issue that has long haunted scientific experimentation: the use of animals, particularly primates, to further the interests of humans -- from health to cosmetics. Her novel tackles what makes some humans morally certain about animal experimentation while others react violently.

In an interview published on her website, the author said that "a lot of what animal rights activists do is simply make us look ... We have underestimated our fellow animals at every turn."

The ORI program encourages SUNY Oswego faculty to bring each year's selection into classroom plans and organizes events to encourage discussion about the book on campus and in the greater Oswego community.

Fowler will appear on campus Wednesday, Sept. 30, for a talk and book signing, classroom visits and dinner with students, Mohammadi said. "I am extremely excited we picked such a good book and that we were able to come to an agreement with the author so quickly to come here this fall," he said.

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