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Summer book discussions focus on life science

May 23, 2011

Just when you thought you could clear your calendar for the summer and spend your evenings lounging by the pool, ASU Life Sciences librarian René Tanner wants to you READ. Not just one book, but three!

Starting at 7:30 p.m., June 9, Tanner will lead a series of three monthly book discussions at the Noble Science Library, located on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The books are all focused on science. The first book, for June 9, is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which, Tanner said, “has a strong sustainability focus. It’s a memoir with a good measure of investigative reporting that chronicles the year she and her family made a deliberate effort to eat locally.”

The second book, to be discussed July 14, is Nick Lane’s “Life Ascending.” Tanner said, “This book takes the reader on a journey through time from chemical reactions around underwater thermal vents to life on land. Along the way Lane chronicles 10 major evolutionary developments that created life as we know it.”

The Aug. 11 discussion will focus on “Journey to the Ants” by Bert Hölldobler (ASU, Foundation Professor of Biology) and E. O. Wilson. “The authors are experts on the subject of ants and their earlier book ‘The Ants’ won a Pulitzer Prize,” Tanner said. “’Journey to the Ants’ combines autobiography and scientific discovery to explain communication among one of the smallest and most numerous organisms on the planet.”

Tanner decided to host the discussions because “summer, traditionally, is a time when many students take a break from academic life and there is less happening on campus, so I wanted to give students and the community a reason to come together,” she said. “This is a pilot project, and I’ll be curious to see how much interest there is.”

To choose the books, Tanner started by looking at other science-oriented book discussions, then read reviews of the books that looked the most interesting. “Finally I looked at what science societies were discussing. That’s how I found Nick Lane’s book, ‘Life Ascending,’” Tanner said. “He won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books for it in 2010.”

The books she chose had to tell a story and have popular appeal – “no textbooks,” Tanner said. “And they needed to be moderately priced. All of the books are under $20.”

The books needed to lend themselves to expansive thinking, according to Tanner. “I wanted books that were interesting to read and talk about – not too specific and not too general. Kind of like Goldilocks picking a chair to sit in – each book needed to be just right.”

The discussions, which are free and open to the public, will take place in room 105 of Noble Library. Free parking is available after 7 p.m., in the Tyler Street Garage, located at Tyler Street and McAllister Avenue. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, or to R.S.V.P., contact Tanner at or go to