Monday, July 26, 2010

Books #66, #67 and #68 of 2010

I finished three books since I last blogged and not one of them was the one I said I was going to read.

First, #66 was the non-fiction book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.

From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories?

I picked this book up on a whim at the library and I am so glad I did. I was -- and still am -- amazed by this story. I think you can enjoy this book even if scientific books about genetics and medicine isn't your usual genre. There is plenty of science in this book but it was never too far above my head The narrative of Lacks' life (and her descendants) is a worthy read on its own. I really can't properly express my feelings about this book. If you like non-fiction, go read it.

Book #67 was "The Department of Lost and Found" by Allison Winn Scotch.

Natalie Miller, a driven 30-year-old senior aideto a woman senator from New York, is having a rough time: just days after she's diagnosed with breast cancer, her cheating live-in boyfriend ditches her. She's feeling gloomy, then, when she begins chemo. (Her hunky and sweet gynecologist, Zach, is a mitigating factor.) Though the election is six weeks away, Natalie is ordered to stay home, where she writes in her diary (excerpts appear throughout) and becomes addicted to The Price Is Right while an ambitious junior aide takes over her job. Natalie battles through rounds of chemo and a mastectomy until, out of the blue, an old love, up-and-coming rocker Jake, comes back to take care of her. He seems intent on making things work, but Natalie's long-simmering (and seemingly requited) attraction to Zach only intensifies. Meanwhile, Natalie's journalist friend Sally lands her first big story: an exposé of Natalie's boss. Her loyalties on the line and her cancer on the wane, Natalie makes some tough choices about the post-cancer person she wants to be.

Despite the heavy topic, this was still a quick, enjoyable read. Scotch lost a friend to breast cancer and says that she gave her story a happy ending in contrast.

Book #68 was "When Did I Get Like This" by Amy Wilson.

"When Did I Get Like This?" is the hilarious story of one mother's struggle to shrug off the ridiculous standards of modern parenting, and remember how to enjoy her children.

Super fast read - one woman's take on motherhood and all that's involved with it.

Up next is "Shiver" by Maggie Stiefvater which is a young adult novel involving werewolves (because if its not vampires, its werewolves).

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