A book club is about four things: bringing books to life, making reading
enjoyable, bringing friends together and having another excuse to throw a
fabulous party. Studio 5 Contributor Teri Haman helps us turn your average
book club into something extraordinary by pulling ideas directly from the
book that translate into food, décor, invites, favors and more.
The Hot Zone is the true story of an Ebola outbreak in monkeys near the
Washington D.C. area. From the remote jungles of Africa, a chilling and
deadly predator travels the world to land in America. Scientists, doctors,
army officers and others struggle to identify and treat this nasty disease in a
disturbing, but incredibly engaging nonfiction story.
Richard Preston’s writing is sharp, detailed, but also beautiful – the perfect
blend for great nonfiction. He handles the science in such a way that it
remains sophisticated, but still understandable. Riveting, scary and incredibly
interesting, this book makes an unforgettable book club experience.
The invitations are made to look like a biohazard warning sign. Some
examples can be seen at this link:
Find the biohazard and warning symbols online and create an invitation. My
invitation says, “Biohazard Biosafety Level 4. ATTENTION ALL PERSONNEL. A
Level 4 incident has occurred and your expertise on The Hot Zoneis required.
Date, place and time.”
FRONT DOOR SIGN:
Inspired by the first pages of the book, that read like security protocol for
entering a biohazard level 4 lab, make a sign for your front door that is
similar to the warnings in the book. This also ties into the invitation.
The biohazard symbol is easily found in a Google search and then I just
copied the wording from the book. This is the perfect way to set the stage for
what guests will experience once inside.
BEAKERS, FLASKS, TEST TUBES:
Much of the book takes place in labs and hospitals, with scientists
desperately trying to solve the problem of a Level 4 outbreak. The perfect
décor, then, is stuff from labs like beakers, test tubes and flasks. Fill these
with colored water (food coloring) and place all over the room where you are
All these things can be purchased on Amazon for reasonable prices:
PICTURES OF GRAM STAIN OR EM (ELECTRON MICROGRAPH) OF COMMON
As a final layer for décor, hang around the room pictures of microscopic
images of common diseases. These are easily found online. Here are the
scientific names of some, which makes searching much easier.
yersiniapestis (the black plague)
eschereschia coli (e coli)
streptococcuspyogenes (strep throat)
influenza (the flu)
variola major (smallpox)
varicella zoster (chicken pox)
Hospitals are a major part of the book and so the food service ties into
hospital-style food as well as sticking with the lab theme.
To give your guests that hospital-food feel (but not the taste) serve food on
compartmentalized trays, such as the ones you might see in hospital food
service or an army mess hall. I found some disposable ones at Walmart,
package of 40 for about $4.
The food served is basically a tour of the book: African main dish – where the
viruses come from, Diet Coke beverage – a favorite of one of the main
characters, and the banana pudding dessert – for the South where the
outbreak occurs and for the monkeys who get the virus.
NORTH AFRICAN MEATBALLS with COUSCOUS
The viruses in the book originate in Africa, so this is a great tie-in to that and
it’s also one of my favorite meals.Recipe from Melissa D’Arabian, Food
Network. Here’s the link:
Serve with a side salad, roll, and diet Coke.
This tasty dessert is inspired by two different aspects of the book: the
monkeys – the carriers of the virus and the South – where the outbreak
occurs. Banana pudding is a traditional Southern dessert and, well, bananas
and monkeys go hand in hand.
SOUTHERN BANANA PUDDING
1 (5 oz.) box of instant banana cream pudding
1 (8 oz.) box of light cream cheese, softened
1 (14 oz.) can non-fat sweetened condensed milk
1 small carton heavy whipping cream
In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, pour in heavy cream and set on high
to whip. Meanwhile, in a bowl mix together cream cheese and sweetened
condensed milk until smooth.
Sweeten the whipped cream with powdered sugar – don’t over sweeten.
Fold whipped cream into cheese/milk mixture.
In another bowl, mix pudding with 2 cups milk for 2 minutes. Then gently
combine with cream/cheese/milk mixture.
Either layer or top pudding with sliced bananas and semi-sweet chocolate
chips. Small portions are best because the pudding in very rich.Makes 10-15
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for The Hot Zone:
1 – Do you think it is possible for a disease like Ebola or Marburg to get into
the human population in the United States?
2 -Do you think USAMRIID and the CDC handled the Reston outbreak
efficiently? If not, what do you think could have been done differently?
3 -The author builds tension for the reader in many ways. Which way did you
think was the most effective?
4 – How do you feel about Tom Geisbert and Peter Jarhling’s decision not to
tell their superiors of “the whiffing incident?” Does it differ from whatNurse
Mayinga did when she left the hospital? Why do you think each of them tried
to hide or deny exposure?
5 – Discuss how you think the story would change if news crews had shown
up and filmed the biocontainment operation.
6 – What is the allure of working with hot agents? Why do these people do it?
Would you do it?
ACTIVITY AND PRIZES:
Purchase 2-4 of the quirky, hilarious Giant Microbe plush toys. These are
available at the University of Utah Bookstore, the Clark Planetarium or online
These toys are made to look like the microscopic version of diseases, viruses,
infections – any microbe – and perfect for little prizes. I would definitely
suggest getting the Ebola one.
In order to award these infectious prizes ask your guests the following or
similar questions (one for each prize). Insert these winning questions into the
1 – Who was the last person to stay in the hospital?
2 – Who was that last person to fly on an airplane?
3 – Who was the last person to visit the zoo and see the monkeys?
This fun favor will have your guests leaving with a smile. Sticking with the lab
theme, purchase some petri dishes from Amazon (link below). Then fill with
Hot Tamales and Mike and Ike candies, about half and half so guests can
choose which flavor they’d like. The candies look like a bacteria or virus
culture grown in a lab. On the top of the dish place a strip of masking tape to
label and seal “cultures” – just like they do in real labs. On the tape for the
Red Tamales write: Marburg Culture, biosafety level 4 hot agent and the date
of your book club.On the Mike and Ikes write: Ebola culture, biosafety level 4
and date of book club.
For more of Teri’s book club ideas visit www.book-matters.com