Book Discussions

Each summer, our staff hosts a range of book discussions.  The books span a variety of topics, and the literature provides a great starting point for conversations that extend well beyond the text.  Our 2018 books were as follows:


Author: Marilynne Robinson

Gilead_Book Discussion 2018In Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, we find ourselves reading a letter by Reverend John Ames to his son as Ames grows old. Ames details stories from multiple generations, writing of both the ordinary and the extraordinary: stumbling on a couple drenched by the rain one day or writing a sermon during the peak of the Spanish Influenza. In many ways, the letter is really a celebration of, or a love letter to, life. Indeed, it seems Ames’ spirituality shines through most when he gushes about the beauty of life, and an ordinary moment is given celestial weight. He simultaneously challenges the reader on basic life values as well—making us ask about the nature of religion, war, love, family, sin, and death as Ames is faced with his past and imminent mortality. Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, Gilead is a moving novel that reveals and brings into question the foundations of modern American Christian life.

We Were Eight Years In Power
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years In Power_2018 Books

A sharp collection of eight essays written during each year of the Obama administration with eight new personal essays by the MacArthur Award-winning (also known as the Genius Grant), New York Times bestselling author of Between the World and MeIn these stirring new pieces originally published in the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliantly analyzes a range of timely topics from the hope, importance, and challenges of the Obama administration, to the historical circumstances and systems that brought about the Trump administration, to systemic terror and discrimination against black people in private and public spheres, to his profound urging for a moral reckoning of this country in the form of reparations, among other things. At once inspiring, disheartening, challenging, and raw, many consider We Were Eight Years In Power a necessary tool for discourse of this country’s history and current events.

The Center Cannot Hold
Author: Elyn Saks

The Center Cannot Hold_Book Discussion 2018Elyn Saks is an associate dean and professor at the USC Gould Law school, and an extraordinarily accomplished scholar of law and policy. She also happens to have schizophrenia. Without medication, she falls into a world of dark hallucinations, incomprehensible sentences, and delusion. Through The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, Saks’ account of her life, which includes Vanderbilt, Oxford, Yale Law, and an ever-changing cast of therapists and hospital staff, is both riveting and relatable. Humor and frank insight provide pops of color throughout the obstacles Saks faces, and though her experiences and treatment are occasionally disquieting, she ultimately emphasizes the healing power of friendship and love in her life. Readers will leave this book with a new appreciation for the humanity and vulnerability of psychiatric patients in the United States.


The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale_Women's Bfast 2018The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) is a work of speculative fiction by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government, the dystopian novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency. Although released in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has seen a new wave of readers in the wake of recent political and social developments, particularly in the United States. Through the narrative of Offred, a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, readers can experience the consequences of a starkly unequal distribution of power while considering what it means to be a woman in society today.

*We offered The Handmaid’s Tale as an optional reading for Women’s Breakfast, around which to center discussions of power, agency, female empowerment, and more.*