Campus Book Club Looks at Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Brianna Fayerverger

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” written by Rebecca Skloot is the chosen book for One Book One College this year. The book brings light to scientific genetic discoveries and students are hooked.

The New York Times No. 1 Best Seller has an intriguing plot. “Henrietta Lacks, known as HeLa in the scientific community, was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and more. Lacks’ cells were bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown,” according to Amazon’s plot summary of the book.

“This story is the collision between ethics, race and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew,” noted in the summary.

“The story covers science, ethics, race and gender,” said Kody Lightfoot, English instructor at CSN. “We wanted a book that would be cross-disciplinary, accessible, relevant and interesting. ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ fits the bill perfectly.”

Students at CSN enjoy the One Book One College program because they like the feeling of belonging to a big book club that builds connections, Lightfoot said. “Community college feels lonely to some students. Students commute and work a lot and many students just attend their classes and go home right after without socializing with their peers.”

One Book One College brings students and instructors together creating a bond, making the reading experience worth wild. “It’s just really cool to walk down the hall and hear a group of students talking about the book,” Lightfoot said.

According to the author’s website “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was published by The Crown Publishing Group, run by Penguin Random House LLC, in 2010 and sold more than 1.25 million copies in the United States. It has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for a combined 74 weeks and counting. The book was awarded winner of several awards. One notable one was the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s award for excellence in science writing.

“[Henrietta Lacks’] cells have been very important to science and having a cell line that could survive outside of the human body has been extremely important for research,” said Chelsey McKenna, biology instructor at CSN who has read the book. “An immortal cell line means it lives on forever whereas a normal cell line will die out after a set number of cell divisions.” Lacks has an immortal cell line. Her cells have duplicated over and over for decades.

“What I enjoyed the most when reading the book was how the author explained numerous research conducted in the past and she also mentioned a few scientists that helped create the history of science,” said Genesis Valentino, nursing major at CSN. “The book really opened my eyes about the ethics of science in general. This book is a great read for anyone interested in understanding the medical field or simply to enjoy an educational book.”

CSN’s One Book One College holds a hike in November and December in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and Red Rock Canyon, according to the book club’s website.

Students who are interested in joining in the fun must be 18 years or older to sign up, said Jack Sawyer, librarian at CSN who coordinates the hikes. “Students can email me up to noon of the day before the hikes. Some students who come on the hikes have read the book, others have not.”

One Book One College will have SciNight on Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the North Las Vegas campus in room N221 to discuss the book. Come join in on this fascinating story.

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