Arts & Science Book Club gives diverse disciplines something to discuss

By in Culture

The College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan may appear to house a broad mix of subjects lacking interdisciplinary unity, but the Arts & Science Book Club aims to bridge those gaps.

The idea of a college-wide book club was first proposed in 2011 by then-dean of the College of Arts and Science, Peter Stoicheff. At the time, the college was still operating under the three division system, with Stoicheff overseeing three vice-deans heading science, social sciences, and humanities and fine art.

Peta Bonham-Smith, who is currently the interim dean, was then the vice-dean of science. When she heard about the idea of a book club that crossed the divisions, she jumped at the chance to get involved.

“The problem I see is that it’s hard for our students to come together as cohorts,” Bonham-Smith said. “I embraced this book club idea because it was one way of possibly bringing our students together from different disciplines, and not just students, but faculty.”

Fast forward, and now the Arts & Science Book Club is celebrating its 2015-16 book of the year, its fourth annual selection. The book is Half-Blood Blues by Canadian author Esi Edugyan, a tale of two black jazz musicians who struggle to escape the racism and oppression of Nazi Germany at the outbreak of the Second World War. Edugyan will be reading from the book and answering questions on the afternoon of Oct. 22. That same evening, she will be presenting a lecture entitled “My Writing Life” and signing books.

Edugyan’s attendance is a direct result of one of the main criteria that Bonham-Smith and her fellow founders decided was necessary for choosing the club’s books.

“We wanted to get together, choose some books from living authors so we could invite them on campus and hear from them, but also choose some books that we could really try to embrace college-wide,” Bonham-Smith said.

Half-Blood Blues ties in music, history, social science, psychology and, of course, literary style. That doesn’t mean this book won’t appeal to scientists, though — Bonham-Smith is a biologist herself and she read the novel in three days flat and loved it.

This year’s events promise to be truly exciting experiences. Dean McNeill, a professor in the U of S department of music and prominent local jazz musician, will bring the U of S Jazz Ensemble to open up the Oct. 22 evening lecture with a selection of late-1930s jazz pieces. He has been in contact with Edugyan regarding the program, so it is sure to be a perfect way to set the mood.

Those who can’t attend the events aren’t out of luck though. Students can sign up to the book club online via PAWS and get involved in discussing Half-Blood Blues. This means U of S students who aren’t on the main campus don’t need to be left out. The community feeling the book club hopes to foster among arts and science students need not apply to Saskatonians only.

Once this year’s book club wraps up, it will be time to look forward to next year. Bonham-Smith and her team are committed to involving the arts and science community in future book decisions.

“The committee puts out a call for suggestions from anybody — students, undergrad, grad, faculty, anybody,” Bonham-Smith said.

Submissions have been climbing steadily each year and the selection committee takes into account the popularity of certain suggestions over others. This way, the book of the year truly ends up representing the College of Arts and Science.

Ultimately, the goal of the Arts & Science Book Club is getting students from across a hugely diverse college to feel excited about how much they can get out of working and learning together. Bonham-Smith thinks discussion among people from different areas of study and walks of life is a powerful thing.

“The diversity and richness that comes out of that is just amazing,” she said.

For more information on the Arts & Science Book Club, visit artsandscience.usask.ca/college/bookclub.