Fifth Year for Common Read

Book coverThis summer marks the fifth year for Central’s common reading program, uniting Central faculty, staff and new students. All first-year students are asked to read the book over the summer as part of Intersections, a required first-year course.

This year, the community read for the fall semester is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. A poor tobacco farmer from Virginia, Lacks died from cervical cancer in 1951. Yet her cells live on in labs, factories and even aboard ships launched into space. The research sprouting from her tumor cells became the foundation for modern science and led to breakthroughs in gene mapping, cloning, fertility, diseases and knowledge of cancer development.

Book discussion questions

Respond in the comments to the following book discussion questions:

  • Beyond medicine, what is this book about?  Is it important?  Why or why not?
  • Why was it so difficult for Skloot to make a connection with Henrietta’s family?
  • What is our identity, beyond our biology? Can our cells have an “identity” without us? (References to part of Henrietta going into space, helping cure cancer…)
  • Did you learn anything new from this book? If so, what and how will you apply it to your life?
  • How does this book relate to your life today?

To encourage serious, intellectual discourse on Civitas, please include your first and last name when commenting. Anonymous comments will be removed.

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  • Ann Van Hemert


    1:09 pm on September 15, 2011

    We just had the opportunity to hear author Harriet Washington talk about her book “Medical Aparthied: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.” Fascinating perspective on medical ethics, culture and much more. Our first year students (and the larger college community) are so fortunate to have had the opporunity to hear her!

  • Mara Egherman


    2:56 pm on September 9, 2011

    The book is a wonderful example and model of the research process. Before I read her online bio, I would have thought it was Skloot’s doctoral dissertation work. The personal style of writing is a bonus and makes it more readable than other similar studies. It raises ethical questions about how far a researcher should go to obtain material, such as when Skloot started spending a lot of time with the Lacks extended family. How did that affect the outcome of the story? Is this an objective story? Does it matter if it is?

  • Rhonda Dyer


    4:08 pm on September 7, 2011

    My book club in Round Rock, Texas read this book for August. We discussed the progress of medicine due to this little lady’s unknown contributions. We also discussed the many atrocities done to people of color in the name of science in our own country and how racism and discrimination are still alive today. The book to me though was about relationships such as the author’s role getting to know the family members of Henrietta, and how the lack of a mother growing up affected all the Lacks children in sad ways. This is a great book to discuss ethical issues and the future of research, medicine and relationships.

  • Paul Weihe


    11:34 am on September 7, 2011

    One of the reasons I really like this book, is that it isn’t an easy good vs. evil situation. Although clearly Henrietta and her family should have been properly informed of the use of her cells, and given informed consent, this is not simply a story of exploitation. As far as we can determine, Henrietta was given appropriate and compassionate medical care, and the use of her cells for research affected her not at all.

    So, assuming I give informed consent (signed papers when seeking care, allowing samples to be taken & used), and someone then takes some of my cells (say, from a routine biopsy or tonsillectomy)..what happens then? Should I have any say in how those cells are used? Should I get any financial reward if the cells are used to develop a profitable product?

    My cells could be used to provide new medical treatments for others, or make somebody money, or provide jobs in an industry…and isn’t that good? Do I have a right to stop any of that? Haven’t I, in fact, enjoyed benefits (e.g., better health care) because others before me served as sources of cells etc.?

  • Nancy Slykhuis


    7:04 am on September 7, 2011

    My friend, a biology professional, gave me her copy of this book to read. I had just finished it when I read that it was the common read at Central. The same thing happened to me a couple years ago with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. I’m glad to know I’m in such excellent company with book selection. I found this book to be very interesting and upsetting at the same time. There was just enough of the personal-scientific mix. I suggested it for my book club group, and we’ll be discussing it together next month.

  • Shelley Ellerston


    7:23 pm on September 2, 2011

    I read the book this summer on the recommendation of several friends, and because I learned it was the common read at Central this fall. An amazing story, well-researched and with compassionate treatment of the family involved by author Rebecca Skloot. This true story brings up many ethical considerations that need to be addressed by society and science.

  • Park Woodle


    3:09 pm on August 20, 2011

    Our family listened to the book I POD verbally while driving and August vacationing. Robert is a current Freshman. Wow what a challenging story. One person’s journey has influenced so many in countless ways. A definite stretch and grow read [or listen]! I have not caught the last few chapters.