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2017–2018 Honors Book Labs

Register below for our Fall Honors Book Labs! All Book Labs consist of four meetings, beginning in the second week of classes each semester. Honors buys all books and keeps enrollment lists and waitlists for each Book Lab. Please call (797-2715) or email ( immediately if you can no longer participate in a Book Lab in which you are enrolled. Demand is high, and Honors wants to accommodate as many students as possible. Enrolled students must attend or return the book to remain in good standing with the University Honors Program.

Please click here for detailed descriptions of past Book Labs.

Fall 2017

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, Deirdre McClosky
Dr. Christopher Fawson - Wednesdays (9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27) at 3:00 p.m.
Author Deirde McClosky is a prominent economic scholar and historian who started her career as Donald McClosky; many would consider her the most prominent transsexual economist in the world. Drawing upon her own life experience and meticulous scholarship, this book is, in her own words, “an apologia in the theological sense of giving reasons with room for doubt, directed to nonbelievers. It is directed toward you who are suspicious of the phrase ‘bourgeois virtues,’ pretty sure that it is a contraction in terms.” Students will find the book challenging, but upon completion of the reading and discussion experience, they will have acquired a much more nuanced appreciation for the notion of “virtuous capitalism.” I have used this book in previous book-club discussions with students (Buehler Leadership Scholars), and it has invariably been a transformational experience for students who are willing to explore serious historical and philosophical arguments surrounding the notion of “bourgeois virtue.”

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL. Add your name to the waitlist here.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson
Dr. Ryan Seedall - Mondays (9/11, 9/18, 9/25, 10/2) at 3:00 p.m.
Just Mercy is a true story written by a man who spent years defending people on death row. Stevenson analyzes racial and economic injustice in a very thought-provoking way. Something that stands out to me about this book is that it has received 4.8/5 stars on Amazon from over 2,200 reviewers. I believe the book will really spark an interesting discussion that has relevance for today regarding diversity, privilege, marginalization, and how to evaluate not only individual, but also structural/organizational oppression.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL. Add your name to the waitlist here.

Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
Professor Rebecca Charlton - Wednesdays (9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27) at 3:00 p.m.

Like Water for Chocolate spent two years on bestseller lists in Mexico and the United States. The intricate weaving together of food and fiction beckons the reader to ponder the pleasures engaged and denied in a world of increasing individualism that at times in conflicts with the constructs of culture. This Book Lab will discuss the societal, community, and nutrition-related themes of the novel in a place where all the best conversations are had: the kitchen. Come prepared to sample foods inspired by the novel while we discuss the place of food and culture in our families, communities, and individual lives.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL. Add your name to the waitlist here.

March, Books 1, 2, and 3, John Lewis
Dr. Steve Shively - Wednesdays (9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27) at 3:00 p.m.
The March trilogy, presented in graphic book format, is an autobiographical account of civil rights leader John Lewis’s remarkable life, with a focus on his political activism. Lewis is one of the few remaining giants of the Civil Rights era. He participated in lunch-counter protests, the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, and many other iconic moments in the struggle for equal rights; the youngest person on the program when Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, he is the last surviving speaker from that day, and he continues to be an active and newsworthy leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. March presents Lewis’s life story from his childhood in a family of sharecroppers to his presence at the inauguration of Barak Obama. Historic events come to life through his storytelling and the art of Eisner Award-winning artist Nate Powell. March has been a huge bestseller and has won numerous awards; the series brings new life to some of the most profound moments in American history through Lewis’s inspiring voice and Powell’s dramatic visual art. March will stimulate fascinating discussions for students interested in history, literature, art, education, sociology, politics, communication, and more.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL. Add your name to the waitlist here.

The North Water, Ian McGuire
Dr. Laura Gelfand and Dr. Paul Crumbley - Tuesdays (9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26) at 3:00 p.m.
With astonishingly raw prose, McGuire spins a fast-paced tale of nautical adventure, mysticism, and survival that nods toward the seafaring works of Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad and incorporates the gritty realism of Cormac McCarthy—while still remaining entirely original itself. Set in 1857 on a British whaling ship bound for the Arctic, this work of historical suspense fiction introduces a cast of unforgettable characters whose behavior may not be to everyone’s taste (it includes vivid descriptions of violence involving people and animals), yet a leap into the book’s icy waters will take willing readers on a compelling journey. Thanks to quality of the writing, the intensity of the narrative, and the author’s nuanced play between the historical and the metaphysical, The North Water lends itself to a broad range of discussions on humanistic topics at the same time as it invites analysis of literary craft. Discussions might touch on topics as diverse as the foundations of human motivation, the importance of spiritual self-discovery, the impact of human culture on the natural environment, and the role of the novel in the modern world.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL. Add your name to the waitlist here.

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Dr. Sara Bakker - Tuesdays (9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26) at 3:00 p.m.
Written by two Pulitzer-prize winning journalists, A Path Appears addresses poverty and social change in contemporary global society. Using an engaging style that interweaves thorough research with illustrative personal stories, the authors identify pressing, persistent problems at home and abroad – and proven, creative strategies for combating them. Our discussions will focus on misperceptions of poverty and the role of journalists in covering ongoing, yet relatively unchanging situations, topics that are particularly timely, given the wealth of current American leadership and the maligned status of journalists in shaping or manipulating our understanding of the world. We will also identify who might actually benefit from maintaining the status quo and ask whether we—as a society or as individuals—have a moral responsibility to intervene. This Book Lab will help you understand how poverty shapes people’s lives and how you might work for social change.

Sign up for this book lab here.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume 1, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dr. Brian McCuskey - Thursdays (9/7, 9/14, 9/21, 9/28) at 3:00 p.m.
This Book Lab will transport us to Baker Street: we will read and discuss the original Sherlock Holmes stories, from his introduction in A Study in Scarlet (1887), to his next investigation in The Sign of Four (1890), and then to his heavy caseload in the Adventures (1892) and the Memoirs (1894). Holmes claims to be the first “scientific detective,” and Watson calls him “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.” Does he deserve his reputation as a logical genius? To answer that question, we will interview both the author who created him, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the actors who have played him, from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch.


The Sports Gene, David Epstein
Dr. Matthew Vierimaa - Tuesdays (9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26) at 3:00 p.m.
Are elite athletes born or made? Is it possible for anyone to become an expert in a sport simply by putting in the so-called requisite 10,000 hours? Are certain athletes blessed with traits that predispose them to reach the highest levels of performance? In The Sports Gene, David Epstein provides an in-depth examination of elite athleticism through the lens of science. Deftly tackling the nature vs. nurture debate in the context of elite sport, The Sports Gene integrates cutting-edge research on topics such as genetics, race, physiology, and psychology. Epstein supplements this empirical evidence with fascinating anecdotes and interviews with athletes from around the world on both sides of the nature-nurture argument. Students with an interest in sport and/or human performance will enjoy this compelling, thought-provoking book on the differential impacts of genetics, practice, and psychosocial factors on athletic performance.

Please click here to register for this book lab.

Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang
Dr. John McLaughlin - Thursdays (9/7, 9/14, 9/21, 9/28) at 3:00 p.m.
In a collection of essays that Junot Díaz has called “shining, haunting, mind-blowing,” Ted Chiang has crafted a set of well-conceived thought experiments that create alternate worlds only slightly different from our own. The recent feature film Arrival is based on the essay that gives the collection its title. As a linguist myself, I came to the book because the film is one of the rare moments when a linguist is the hero of the story. Chiang creates believable alternate realities to examine such questions as the relation of automation and human labor, the contradiction between a just God and the capriciousness of circumstance, the interaction of foreknowledge and human choice, the nature of obsession, and the relation between mandatory and voluntary action. During the four weeks of this Book Lab, we will discuss four of the essays that touch upon some of these different questions of our world.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL. Add your name to the waitlist here.