Still on The New York Times bestseller list after 44 weeks, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the current “Santa Barbara Reads!” selection through the Santa Barbara Public Library System.

This year’s “Santa Barbara Reads!” book is an extraordinary work weaving medical science, the legacy of racism and poverty, an intimate personal history, and the birth of bioethics. The Santa Barbara Public Library System is partnering with UCSB Reads, the SBCC Library, Antioch University and Westmont College to promote this 2011 community-wide reading and discussion program.

Community members are encouraged to read the book, talk about it with friends, and come to one of two free Community Conversations, where a distinguished panel of scholars will present their perspectives and field questions on the many ethical, medical, historical and scientific issues raised by this book. Audience members need not have read the book to enjoy the discussion.

Community Conversations

Goleta Library — 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 5

Panelists: Kathleen Foltz, associate professor in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Department at UCSB; John Park, associate professor of Asian American studies at UCSB; and Gabriela Soto Laveaga, associate professor in the History Department at UCSB

Santa Barbara Central Library — 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 6

Panelists: Heather Rose, biology professor at SBCC; Starshine Roshell, columnist and journalism professor at SBCC; Alice Scharper, dean of Educational Programs at SBCC; and Dawn Osborn, core faculty at Antioch University

All branches of the Santa Barbara Public Library System have the book available in numerous formats, including hardcover, large print, book on CD, downloadable e-book and downloadable audiobook. Click here to reserve a copy online, or call or visit a local branch library.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks relates the history of a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, and whose cells — taken without her knowledge — became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, named HeLa, they are still alive and used in research today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years.

Skloot, an award-winning author, takes her readers on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Va., —a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings and voodoo — to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Additionally, Skloot, who has received wide acclaim for her work as a science and medical writer, will present a public lecture at UCSB’s Campbell Hall at 8 p.m. April 11. For tickets, click here or call 805.893.3535.

— Christine Gallery is a reference librarian for the Santa Barbara Public Library.