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UCSB Reads 2011: 1. Gene Lucas: UCSB Reads, 2011

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UCSB Reads, 2011

UCSB Reads, 2011

Gene Lucas, Executive Vice Chancellor


It’s been four years since we kicked off the first UCSB Reads program.  We began it as an intellectual exercise in which the whole campus could participate, and to emphasize the centrality of reading and the Library to the research and teaching missions of UCSB.  We promoted that participation by making free copies available to students and to faculty that would use the book in their classes.  We conducted forums and discussion sections to involve not just the campus but all of the Santa Barbara community. We read the book over KCSB, and we participated in making an audio copy for Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic.  We invited the author to give a public address in Campbell Hall on the book and the subjects covered by the book.  These elements have all been very successful, and we have built on them in subsequent years, involving local public libraries and other institutions of higher learning (SBCC and Westmont).

We have always tried to select a book that: 1) addressed an important contemporary issue; 2) could be read and understood by a broad array of people with many different disciplinary interests and expertise; 3) wove many disciplines together; 4) was a compelling read, but could be read and followed in increments of chapters.  We have tried to pick subject matter that covered a wide range of fields year by year.  We think this has been an excellent basis on which to choose books.

The first year we read “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” by Elizabeth Kolbert, which addressed the science and social implications of global warming.  The author’s public address was part of an Arts and Lectures series on climate change.  The second year we read “Travels of a T-shirt” by Pietra Rivoli, which focused on the economics, politics, history, and cultural impacts of  globalization.  Books were exchanged for T-shirts and Art students created a T-shirt sculpture that was displayed around the campus.  The third year we read “Ethics for the New Millenium” by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. A welded tree frame in the Library attracted students to add their wishes, messages, poems, drawings and dreams to the tree. Forums and discussion sections focused on the broad subject of ethics, capped by a visit and lectures by the Dalai Lama himself.  Last year we read “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario, which followed the dangerous, risky and sometimes fatal journeys of children in Central America as they try to rejoin mothers who have gone to the United States to find work to support their families.  This fostered conversations and discussions on the broad issue of immigration, and we “followed” Enrique on twitter on a daily basis as we worked through the book.     Hence, in this short time we have covered subjects ranging from science and technology, to social sciences, education and the humanities.

This year we have selected “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.  This is a very compelling story of the beginnings of a human cell line that has hugely impacted research in the scientific and medical communities; but it’s woven into the story of Henrietta’s death from the cancer from which the cells were taken and her family’s discovery years later that their mother was still “alive.”  This is sure to promote a spectrum of discussions on the science of cell biology, ethics in medical research, and the history of African American families in the U.S.  It will also raise a whole host of questions that have yet to be answered.  This will continue the tradition of UCSB Reads in challenging our community on issues of the day.  We’re greatly looking forward to engaging the community and bringing Ms. Skloot to campus.

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