There were many worthy candidates, but in the end, there could only be one winner.
That statement is a key plot point in the next University of Houston-Victoria Community of Readers book, but it also applies to the selection process of choosing the book all incoming freshmen will read next school year.
For its ability to facilitate discussion, and abundance of potential class and event tie-ins, “The Hunger Games” was selected as the 2012-2013 book by the UHV First Year Experience Committee. All freshmen will receive a free copy of the book. University faculty and staff also will be able to obtain the novel at no charge.
“Each committee member read about 40 books to narrow the field,” said J. Keith Akins, director of the UHV First Year Academic Experience. “We got it down to five, and every one of them would have been great. We felt ‘The Hunger Games’ was the timeliest of the five.”
The Community of Readers is a common reading program that encourages students, faculty, staff and community members to read the same book and attend related events during the year. The activities and events allow readers to connect with each other and to explore the themes of the book.
Akins said there are plenty of tie-ins that can be discussed by a wide variety of UHV classes. For example, there are lessons from the book about psychology, biology, criminal justice, political science and even the dangers of reality TV.
“There are not many subjects that the book doesn’t touch upon,” Akins said. Written by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” is set in the future. The U.S. has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch.
When 16-year-old Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.
“This book is a good examination of what living under an oppressive government is like,” Akins said. “We are living in a time period that has several oppressive governments in the world. Meanwhile, we are seeing the erosion of civil liberties here at home.”
Akins said the science fiction setting of the book makes it easier to see what happens if the trend of oppressive government is taken to the extreme.
“I think our students will identify very strongly with the main characters in the novel,” said Jeffrey Cass, UHV provost and vice president for academic affairs. “At their age, they probably will identify with the difficulties the characters have in understanding how authority works.”
The movie version of “The Hunger Games” was one of the most anticipated films of the past year. The movie grossed more than $500 million in the first month at the theaters.
Amanda Breu, UHV instruction and outreach librarian, said the committee realized some students may already have read the book, but many others saw the movie without reading it.
“We are hoping that with the popularity of the movie, it will get students who normally don’t read a lot to want to read this book,” Breu said. “It’s the first in a series, so we hope students will want to continue reading the rest of the books.”
Like most films based on novels, there’s a lot in the book that doesn’t make it into the movie, Akins said.
“I think it will be like ‘Harry Potter’ in that people will go back and forth between the movie and the book,” he said. “Each reinforces the other.”
Akins said plans are underway to invite guest speakers to the campus and hold events related to the book. Community members are encouraged to read the book and take part in the events.
The book is available for purchase at local and online retail outlets, and copies are available to check out at the Victoria Public Library and the Victoria College/UHV Library.
The Community of Readers idea was proposed by the First Year Experience Committee, a universitywide group of faculty and staff members dedicated to providing incoming students with a welcoming, challenging and successful first year at UHV. The committee also founded the First Year Seminar, a required course that teaches students how to participate and succeed in the academic life of the university through connecting with faculty.
The committee chose “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” for this school year’s book. The 2010-2011 selection was “Isaac’s Storm,” a book about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane.
Freshmen on campus this summer will be able to get their copies of “The Hunger Games.” All other freshmen will be given the book at the start of the fall semester.
For more information about the Community of Readers, visit www.uhv.edu/communityofreaders or email firstname.lastname@example.org.