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Honors Book Labs

Honors Book Labs are four-week faculty-run book groups that engage 4-5 Honors students in cross-disciplinary conversation. Faculty select books on any topic and for any reason: they might choose books they teach or ones they'd like to read, recent prizewinners or topical bestsellers, local gems or international classics, works of fact or fiction. Honors Book Labs all share four key learning outcomes: they introduce students to new ideas, engage them in cross-disciplinary conversation, encourage critical thinking, and connect them to their local and global communities.

All Book Labs meet four times: one hour per week during the second through fifth weeks of each term. Honors buys all books and tracks enrollment and waitlists for each Book Lab. Faculty lead discussions, but they do not evaluate work or assign grades for this experience. Instead, Honors students earn one Honors point once they have attended all four meetings and submitted a written reflection about how the Book Lab met the learning outcomes described above. 

Register below for the upcoming semester's Honors Book Labs. Students may enroll in only one Book Lab per semester, and students who fail to complete a reflection for a Book Lab in one semester may not register for another the following term. Please call 435-797-2715 or email immediately if you can no longer participate in a Book Lab in which you have enrolled. Demand is high, and Honors wants to accommodate as many students as possible. Enrolled students must complete all Book Lab requirements or return the book to remain in good standing with the University Honors Program. Good standing includes the privilege to enroll in future Book Labs, as well as other privileges such as early registration. 


Please click here for detailed descriptions of past Book Labs. To learn about upcoming Book Labs, check the Honors Events page for the next Honors Book Lab Showcase.

 Spring 2020

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Dr. Ekaterina Arshavskaya
3:00-4:00 p.m. Thursdays (1/16-2/6) in NEHMA

How do you fit into the elite Princeton University classroom coming from Black, working-class family background? How do you look inside yourself understand your life's true calling? How do you keep a loving and lasting marriage throughout your lifetime? How do you balance family and a successful career? These are just some of the questions that the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama raises and answers, based on her own personal life experience, in Becoming. In a candid and witty manner, Michelle Obama tells her story of becoming who she is today and reminds us that “becoming” never ends. This is a personal yet relatable memoir that can teach lessons to people of different backgrounds, and that shows that sharing personal stories can help us understand and connect us to each other. In this book, through her own example, Michelle Obama inspires you to become more than other people think you can become.

This Book Lab is now FULL.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam
Anne Hedrich, Flora Shrode, Vicki Read
3:00-4:00 p.m. Thursdays (1/16-2/6) in LIB 208

Has our social fabric been torn irreparably? Can we get along? Did we ever get along? Bowling Alone looks at the changes in civic participation in American society and the implications of these changes. It explores political, religious, and civic engagement, and connections that come from the workplace and volunteering. The author asks “What killed civic engagement?” and explores how it affects our happiness, wealth, education, and democracy. Written in the year 2000, the message of Bowling Alone still resonates today—it was recently nominated as the most influential book written in the last 20 years.  The phrase bowling alone pops up in conversation, and books have been written about this book.  We chose this title for a Book Lab to find out what everyone is talking about.

This Book Lab is now FULL.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Dr. Mehmet Soyer
3:00-4:00 p.m. Tuesdays (1/14-2/4) in MAIN 224-C

Silent Spring (1962) is a ground-breaking book that triggered the environmental movement. Rachel Carson, a biologist, exposed the connections between humans, the natural world, and environmental problems, and her book raised environmental consciousness by uncovering pesticide use in agriculture. She directly challenged the U.S. government’s decision to allow harmful chemicals in the agricultural industry. This book will make readers reconsider the construction of both environmental issues and environmental movements in the world around them.

This Book Lab is now FULL. 

Homosexuality & Civilization by Louis Crompton
Professor Raymond Veon
3:00-4:00 p.m. Mondays (1/13, 1/27, 2/3, and 2/10 - no meeting on MLK Day) in CCA Conference Room

How have major civilizations of the last two millennia treated people who were attracted to their own sex? This book lab is designed for those seeking a broad yet historically accurate understanding of LGTBQ people across time and cultures. In a narrative tour de force, Louis Crompton chronicles the lives and achievements of homosexual men and women alongside a darker history of persecution, as he compares the Christian West with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Arab Spain, imperial China, and pre-Meiji Japan. Ancient Greek culture celebrated same-sex love in history, literature, and art, making high claims for its moral influence. By contrast, Crompton traces the Jewish and Christian-inspired mutilation, torture, and burning of “sodomites” due to superstition, abetted by political ambition and sheer greed. But anti-homosexual atrocities committed in the West contrast starkly with the more tolerant traditions of pre-modern China and Japan, as revealed in poetry, fiction, and art and in the lives of emperors, shoguns, Buddhist priests, scholars, and actors. In the samurai tradition of Japan, the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greece. Elegantly crafted and lavishly illustrated, Homosexuality and Civilization is a stunning exploration of a rich and terrible past. 

This Book Lab is now FULL.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Dr. Andrea Hawkman
3:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesdays (1/15-2/5) in EDUC 391

Racism is endemic to American society. Despite efforts to challenge its presence, racism continues to influence every aspect of our lives. As acclaimed historian and author Ibram Kendi suggests, "The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it, and then dismantle it." Ibram Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist weaves together history, science, politics, ethics and personal stories to explore his personal journey toward antiracism. The text challenges readers to consider the role of race/ism in their lives and urges them to move beyond this recognition toward antiracist action. After all, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must work toward an antiracist identity.

This Book Lab is now FULL.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Dr. Lauren Hunt
3:00-4:00 p.m. Tuesdays (1/14-2/4) in LLC A 102

Have you ever written an answer on a test, then changed it, only to learn your first choice was the correct one? Why did you order pizza and not a burger last time you went out to eat? Which car should you buy? Why do serial killers make different moral choices than most other members of society? How do airline pilots choose what to do in life-or-death situations?
Many philosophers have considered the decision-making process to either be based on gut instinct, or a rational risk-benefit analysis. As we learn more about the brain, however, neuroscientists are discovering that this is not how the decision-making process works; our best decisions are actually a blend of both feeling and reason. Whether you are generally confident in the decisions you make, or one of the most indecisive people you know, learning the answers to these questions and more will illuminate many mysteries of the decision-making process. As someone who is famous among my friends for being indecisive, reading this book illuminated pathways towards greater understanding of my own psychology. This highly-readable book will guide you towards more thoughtful decision-making in your daily life.

This Book Lab is now FULL.


Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Dr. Brian McCuskey
3:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesdays (1/15-2/5) in RWST 313

The other one, the one called Dr. McCuskey, is the one things happen to. I walk across the quad and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the entrance to Ray B. West; I know of Dr. McCuskey from email and the English department website. I like old movies, long novels, and Monty Python; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Dr. McCuskey may contrive his Book Labs, and these Book Labs justify me. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Two years ago, I tried to free myself from him by fleeing through the Looking-Glass to Baker Street, but those games belong to Dr. McCuskey now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to him, or to the wastepaper basket.

I do not know which of us has written this proposal.


This Book Lab is now FULL.

The Minutemen and Their World by Robert A. Gross
Dr. Julia Gossard
3:00-4:00 p.m. Thursdays in LLC A 102

The American Revolution forever changed the political landscape of the world. While grand military strategists and Enlightened thinkers helped spread the ideology of independence, ordinary men and women had to make decisions to join a fight that, by all logic, seemed impossible. Robert Gross provides an engaging and vivid reconstruction of Concord, Massachusetts - the town where the "shot heard round the world" catapulted this sleepy New England village into the midst of revolutionary fervor. A wonderful and insightful read that reminds us of the nameless individuals of the American Revolution.

This Book Lab is now FULL. 

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert McFarlane
Dr. Alexa Sand
3:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesdays (1/15-2/5) in LLC A 110

In The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane explores the deep history of the British Isles from the perspective of the walker. It is part environmental history, part travel narrative, and part a contemplation of what it means to be human and bipedal. Actually, there are also a few "sea roads" traveled by boat, as is only right when the land routes all end at the shore, as they tend to do on islands. This is one of those books that changes the way you look at the landscape around you and think about your connection, bodily and temporal, to its past. Although we live far from the ancient routes that Macfarlane travels, here in Utah we too occupy territory over which human beings have traveled for thousands of years, mostly by foot until quite recently. This book asks us to think about those pathways, encourages us to explore them, and opens up the possibility that by connecting to the past through the physical act of walking, we become more fully integrated into the place we occupy in time and space.


This Book lab is now FULL 

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson
Dr. Christy Glass and Dr. Marisela Martinez-Cola
3:00-4:00 p.m., Wednesdays (1/15-2/5) in MAIN 224A

The strength of a democracy depends on strong voting rights for all citizens. Yet attempts to impose voting restrictions and systematically disenfranchise American voters have increased in recent years. Dr. Anderson’s new book, One Person, No Vote, traces the modern history of voter suppression in America. The Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby decision significantly scaled back the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which aimed to eliminate racial discrimination in voting requirements. The 2013 ruling strengthened efforts to scale back voting rights for poor, Black and Latino voters. Dr. Anderson’s book traces these efforts as well as the efforts of activists to resist these efforts and extend the vote to all Americans. Dr. Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University, will be the keynote speaker for a campus-wide symposium in March 2020 focused on voting rights. This book lab will help us prepare for her visit by exploring her work in depth.

This Book Lab is now FULL.