Suzanne Perez Tobias

Wichita’s Big Read will explore the quiet beauty of nature and science

Wichita will mark a dozen years of community common reads this fall with a memoir about a geobiologist living with bipolar disorder.

Wichita Public Library officials announced Thursday that “Lab Girl,” by Hope Jahren, will be the city’s 12th Big Read.

Published in 2016, “Lab Girl” recounts how Jahren found sanctuary in science and learned to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” At the core of the book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend.

The book was a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2016 by Kirkus. In its starred review, Kirkus said Jahren’s memoir “has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth.”

The Wichita library received a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help finance this year’s Big Read, a program that encourages diverse audiences to read the same book and participate in events designed around its theme.

The event will run from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15. A kick-off party will be held Sept. 28 at the Advanced Learning Library.

Library officials said they chose “Lab Girl” because the subject matter lends itself to several community partnerships and special events. The library plans to host keynote speakers from The Land Institute and the John Muir Institute of the Environment at the University of California at Davis.

This year’s pick for Wichita marks a return to nonfiction after last year’s novel, “Station Eleven.”

Additional details about Big Read events will be announced during the summer on the Big Read’s Facebook page and the website,

Big Reads through the years

This year’s Big Read — “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren — marks a dozen years for Wichita’s common-read program. Here’s a look back at previous selections:

2018: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

2017: “The Latehomecomer” by Kao Kalia Yang

2016: “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

2015: “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea

2014: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

2013: “True Grit” by Charles Portis

2012: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2011: “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

2010: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

2009: “Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe” by Edgar Allan Poe

2008: “My Antonia” by Willa Cather

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.