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2018 Honors Book Labs

Register below for our Spring 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. Students may enroll in only one Book Lab per semester, and students who fail to complete a reflection in one semester may not register the following term. Please call (797-2715) or email (honors@usu.edu) immediately if you can no longer participate in a Book Lab for which you have signed up. 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 and to continue to be allowed to take part in the Book Lab program.

Please click here for detailed descriptions of past Book Labs.

Spring 2018

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
Dr. Kim Sullivan - Thursdays (1/18, 1/25, 2/1, 2/8) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in BNR 315
Ever wonder what a bird is thinking about? Does the crow you see every morning walking up Old Main Hill recognize you? The Genius of Birds is a New York Times bestseller written by a very articulate science writer. This book focuses on cutting-edge research about avian intelligence--how they solve problems, remember, judge members of the opposite sex, and find their way across thousands of miles during migration. Gain a deeper appreciation of the birds you see every day as you read this well-written, entertaining book.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Dr. Marissa Vigneault - Thursdays (1/18, 1/25, 2/1, 2/8) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in FAV 118
Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing stirred me to the core. Her use of visceral language seductively pulls the reader into an absolutely gripping set of generational stories, each one building on the last. Gyasi traces the parallel narratives of two Ghanaian sisters born in the 1700s; one remains in her native land, while the other is shipped off in slavery to a plantation in the United States. The separation of the sisters impacts the legacy of the family line in simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting ways, revealing to the reader the ongoing impact of slavery in our country and in East Africa. We follow snippets of personal stories, moving back and forth between Ghana and the United States over the course of three hundred years. No one story is told in full; each is an elusive glimpse into political strife, both familial and global. Gyasi’s novel speaks to our inherited truths and history’s deceptive chronicles, challenging the reader to find parallels in our contemporary social climate. Gyasi deftly weaves us back into time to remind us that history is a ghostly presence that never fully departs. As such, discussion in this book lab will address the ongoing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States, the ways stories are told and transmitted over time (and the, at times, damaging repercussions of repeating certain stories), notions of identity and cultural policing, and the ever present question: is reconciliation possible?

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Dr. Abby Benninghoff - Tuesdays (1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in AGRS 235 on 1/16, 1/23, and 2/6, and in AGRS 113 on 1/30
This non-fiction work tells the unique story of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951, but whose cells became the cornerstone of decades of scientific research that has saved many, many lives. The central conflict of this tale is that her cells were used in secret without her permission, thus creating an ethical conundrum that confounds the scientific community to this day. As a science researcher working in the field of cancer prevention and an instructor of research ethics, Dr. Benninghoff has long been personally interested in the case of Ms. Lacks, the monumental scientific discoveries gained, and the moral consequences of misappropriating her cells as a medical resource. Considering that society is on the doorstep of another scientific revolution – personal genetic information used for medical, anthropological, societal purposes – a discussion of Henrietta Lacks’s story and its consequences for society and her family seems very timely. Participants are invited to a viewing party at the instructor’s home to watch the Emmy-nominated HBO movie of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, starring Oprah Winfrey.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Dr. Mark Koven - Tuesdays (1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in IS 108
While the title might imply that this book is directed toward a single gender, Lab Girl is for anyone who has a love and appreciation for both scientific discovery and aesthetic experience of the natural world. Hope Jahren’s remarkable memoir recounts both her personal odyssey and her profound affinity with nature. In her hands, you will never feel the same way about leaves, soil, and seeds again. Leaves become “elegant machines, soil is the interface between the living and the dead, and seeds, well, they are transformed into the most patient and hopeful of all life forms.” Jahren has such a passion for the natural world that it’s hard to imagine her in any role other than her current one: a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii. Lab Girl presents her fascinating journey; it is a book as rich with academic research as it is with stories of science and tales of human endeavor.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
Dr. Keri Holt and Dr. Judson Finley - Wednesdays (1/17, 1/24, 1/31, 2/7) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in OM 252 (Anthropology Museum)
The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey’s iconic novel about environmental activism and vigilante justice, is one of the most famous novels written about the state of Utah. The novel tells the story of a rag-tag group of renegades—George Hayduke, a former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran, “Seldom Seen” Smith, a Jack Mormon river guide, Doc Sarvis, a wealthy surgeon from New Mexico, and his feminist girlfriend Bonnie Abbzug—who travel throughout Utah destroying machinery and disrupting projects that are involved with land development and resource extraction, with the ultimate goal of blowing up the Glen Canyon Dam—the dam that created Lake Powell. Since its publication in 1975, The Monkey Wrench Gang has prompted heated debate about environmental activism, conservation, and land use in the American west, with some celebrating the book as a spirited defense of environmental values and others condemning it for its violence and naïve idealism. Issues of environmental activism and development are currently a hot topic in Utah with debates over the Public Lands Initiative, the Sagebrush Rebellion, and the Bears Ears National Monument. In light of these issues, now is a great time to revisit The Monkey Wrench Gang and see how this book contributes to these conversations—are the ideas in The Monkey Wrench Gang still relevant? How are these issues different, and how have they remained the same? The Monkey Wrench Gang inevitably prompts controversy, and we believe it will spark some lively debates about the way people view and interact with the land here in our state.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Dr. Evelyn Funda and Dr. Steve Shively - Wednesdays (1/17, 1/24, 1/31, 2/7) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in the CHaSS Dean's small conference room (OM 338)
2018 marks the centennial of Willa Cather’s beloved novel My Ántonia, the story of a heroic Czech immigrant girl who creates a meaningful life on the plains of Nebraska. This classic novel both challenges and celebrates the traditional pioneer story as it emphasizes the power of stories and storytelling in people’s lives. Cather’s novel remains surprisingly relevant; this book lab will explore such topics as community responses to immigrants, gender and sexuality, suicide, and advantages and disadvantages of small-town life. My Ántonia is a powerful mix of fact and fiction and raises important issues of how families, communities, and nations transform real life and myth into both literature and history. Always, Cather lifts up the power of the human imagination. Professors Funda and Shively both have strong personal and professional connections to the novel and look forward to sharing them with students. There is a resurgence of interest in Willa Cather among readers and critics in the U.S. and in other countries, and we will be able to examine the exciting new scholarship being written in honor of the centennial of My Ántonia.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack Rakove
Dr. Thomas Terry - Mondays (1/22, 1/29, 2/5, 2/12) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in AGRS 331
Will Rogers remarked that everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Ditto the U.S. Constitution: everybody bellows that things they don’t like are unconstitutional, but few really understand the whole mess and or are willing to find out. Supreme Court Justices like Antonin Scalia have argued for “original intent,” the philosophy that judges should adhere to what the Framers of the Constitution meant when they wrote it. The problem is, however, how do you figure out “original intent”? Ironically, Scalia’s ideas about intention were anticipated by no less an authority than John Adams, one of the Founders, who worried that future Americans would consider him and the other writers of the Constitution infallible. Indeed, when Obamacare was debated, some argued the Framers (see? we even capitalize them!) never believed in national health insurance, so we shouldn’t 220 years later. Nope, simply not true! The Fifth Congress, filled with Framers and Founders, passed and Adams signed in 1798 a national health plan for non-military merchant marine sailors. This Book Lab will explore these and other questions about the Constitution through a discussion of Jack Rakove’s Pulitzer prize-winning Original Meanings, which looks at the history, politics, and ideas surrounding the creation of the United States Constitution.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

Privilege Through the Looking-Glass by Patricia Leavy
Dr. Mehmet Soyer - Mondays 1/22, 1/29, 2/5, 2/12) from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in OM 224C
Privilege Through the Looking-Glass is a collection of original essays that explore privilege and status characteristics in daily life. This book seeks to make visible that which is often invisible and to sensitize us to things we have been taught not to see. Privilege, power, oppression, and domination operate in complex and insidious ways, impacting both groups and individuals. With engaging and powerful writing, the contributors share their personal stories as a means of connecting the personal with the public. This volume looks at how race, class, gender, sexuality, education, and ableness converge in various ways, creating the basis for privilege and oppression. Since Privilege Through the Looking-Glass encourages readers to engage in self and social reflection, students will get to know more about marginalized groups through our readings and discussions.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline
Dr. Ryan Moeller and Dr. Brian McCuskey - Wednesdays (1/17, 1/24, 1/31, 2/7) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in RWST 306
Join our adventure through the history of virtual reality, from text-based games like Zork in the 1980s to current platform games like the wordless Journey, and then on into the future of augmented reality. Our guidebook to adventure is Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One (2011). Cline’s protagonist is an adolescent male who escapes from his dystopian life into a more exciting and fulfilling virtual reality, where he gains superpowers, discovers a sense of purpose, and meets the girl of his dreams. We will read the novel to ask and discuss pointed questions about virtual reality. How might it encourage social awareness and political engagement rather than reactionary isolation and escapism? To what extent can it resist and reject its longtime association with adolescent male anxieties? Can it encourage progressive dreams rather than cater to regressive fantasies? How might it then usefully blur the boundaries between work and play? Between education and entertainment? Between art and commerce? If you are interested in the growing potential of virtual reality to effect real change in the real world, then you might be ready, player one . . . although no video gaming experience is necessary!

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Dr. Stephen VanGeem - Mondays (1/22, 1/29, 2/5, 2/12) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in OM 224 (Sociology Conference Room)
In his latest book, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the parallels between multiracial democracy in the postbellum South and the Obama presidency in the 21st century. The phrase “We Were Eight Years in Power” refers to the brief period from 1869-1877 during southern Reconstruction when black politicians were elected after the Civil War ended, but before the south conceded to Jim Crow laws and reestablished white supremacy. This book includes a series of essays exploring the contemporary role of race in the Obama administration, arguments about reparations, the age of mass incarceration, and the recent election of Donald Trump.

Dr. VanGeem selected this book because it adds to a conversation that is necessary in a society like ours that claims to be “post-racial.” Race still matters in multiple contexts--politics, criminal justice, Confederate monuments--and this book serves as a much-needed jumping off point for further discussion.

THIS BOOK LAB IS FULL -- check the WAIT LIST.