Common Reading

Diana Grumbles on Why SMU Chose this Book for the 2011 Common Reading

Why this Book?

As the chair of the committee that selects the Common Reading for the past several years, I often am asked, “How did the committee makes its choice?” Well, much thought goes into the selection, I can assure you. First of all, an email to the entire SMU community solicits suggestions. Then our quite-large committee (made up of faculty, staff, and students) peruses the most viable options. Finally, we each read the top 3-4 options. And then we vote. Some years we do not even have to vote because there is so much enthusiasm for a particular book. That was the case this year. Professor Christine Buchanan suggested The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and a few other committee members and I read the book over the winter break last year. I could not put it down! While the book can be challenging to read because of some of the in-depth science information that Skloot covers, in total the book is so fascinating that the reading experience is incredibly positive—at least this was the committee members’ opinion. Each year we aim to select a book that engages questions that are germane to the kinds of studies and inquiries are new students will surely embark upon at SMU. We believe we have found such a choice in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Medical and journalistic ethics, education, race, class, even geography—the book asks that we consider the role of all of these areas in the story of a very real woman. And that perhaps was the biggest selling point to us in choosing the book: Skloot does so much to communicate the humanity and zest for life that Henrietta Lacks felt, even in very trying circumstances, that we were moved by her story and wanted to share it with our newest students.

Diana Grumbles
~Diana Clark Grumbles is the director of Written English and chair of the Common Reading Selection Committee

Click here to learn more about Grumbles.
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