Science book club adds meeting to dig deeper into storytelling

Collage of book covers

A UO book club that explores the intersection of literary fiction and science communication is adding a second weekly meeting to give more people a chance to attend and dive into both science and science writing.

Clark Honors College instructor Rachel Rodman started the Lab Lit Book Club two years ago because she believes science literacy is more than just the ability to read and understand complex research. She says scientists also need to understand storytelling.

“Scientists need to connect to the public and be better storytellers,” Rodman said. “One way to do that is to look at how science and scientists are portrayed in literary fiction.”

The club is now part of the UO’s Science Literacy Program and meets once per term. Rodman tries to have an expert guest speak about the field of science presented in the chosen book, and science-based games and data collection based on readers’ reviews of the book also are offered.

To accommodate busy schedules, the club is trying an experiment this term: Two identical discussion meetings will be held, both during week 8. The first meeting will be Monday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. in Room B040, Price Science Commons, and the second will be Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 4 p.m. in Room 30, Pacific Hall.

Rodman is hoping that the two meeting times will allow more participants to attend and determine if one time is preferable to another.

“We’re a science-based club,” she said. “We like experiments.” 

This term, the Lab Lit Book Club will be discussing the play “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard. It’s a story about the science, and art, of reconstructing past events and the perils of publishing before all the data are in. In a 2013 review in the New Yorker, Brad Leithauser called the play “a masterpiece … . I feel irrationally, impossibly confident that ‘Arcadia’ is the finest play written in my lifetime.”

At its debut in 1993, is was called “Stoppard’s finest play in years” by the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 2006 it made The Guardian’s short list for the best science book ever written.  

The Lab Lit Book Club is modeled after London’s Fiction Lab group. Rodman was a part of the club when she was living there and found the discussions among the diverse group members invigorating.

That club was made up of scientists, businesspeople, writers and people with no science background. The Lab Lit Book Club strives to welcome that same diversity. Anyone can attend, regardless of background or department affiliation or connection to the university. Interested participants are encouraged to bring any book-loving friends, colleagues or family members.

For more information and to see a list of past Lab Lit selections, visit the Lab Lit Book Club page or contact Rachel Rodman at rrodman@uoregon.edu.

—By Denise Silfee, Research and Innovation