Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Give a Book!

"Do give books for Christmas.
They're never fattening,
seldom sinful,
and permanently personal."
Lenore Hershey

Is there any better gift to give then a book? I know when I receive one I am elated. That someone took the time to think of me, to choose a book that they thought I would enjoy curling up with~~I can't think of a more generous gift.

Here are some favorites I enjoyed this year, and hopefully one will make you go "aha! I know just who love this!"

Cleopatra: A Life
Stacy Schiff
Schiff introduces us to a Cleopatra who history has not been kind to. This Cleopatra is full of warmth and humanity; smart, witty, ambitious  and very proud and fond of her children. This is not the Cleopatra we are used to~~great descriptions of Egypt during 30 BC, which I found fasinating. This was fun, interesting and an enlightening book to read.

Keith Richard with James Fox
The simply amazing thing about this biography is that Richards remembers anything at all~~much less that he is still alive to tell it. What a wild ride this man and his friends had! For those of us who grew up with the Rolling Stones this is a great insight about them from Richards viewpoint; the ups, downs, good, bad and the ugly. Richards leaves nothing out, and he gives us a book that is very profane, full of dark humor~~and strangely, charming. He proves he's not the walking dead after all~~

Emma Donogue
You won't want to put this book down. A Mom and her five-year old son, Jack, live in a Room. The Room is a soundproof, converted shed behind a house owned by Old Nick, who had kidnapped and kept Jack's mother captive for years~~where Jack was born and is the only world Jack has ever known. Talk about the resilience of the human spirit, here Donogue shows amazing it can be.

Medium Raw
Anthony Bourdain
Nobody does food-porn better then Bourdain. Here he once again will have you laugh, blush and yet, still want to go out to a restaurant to eat.  Brash, profane, spicy~~who knew that there were secret gatherings of top chefs that can be compared to mafia summits? Bourdain gives us a view inside the food industry, restaurants and chefs like nobody else...and doesn't cut slack for anybody, no matter how famous a chef they are.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand
Meet Louis Zamperini, juvinile delinquent, trouble maker, teenage punk; Zamperini took his anger and rage and devoted it to running, where he discovered he had a talent for it. He competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a runner and  did very well in the four-minute mile. He joined the Air Force when the war came, survived his plane crashing into the Pacific Ocean, only to picked up by the Japanese where he became a prisoner in one of the most horrific POW camps  the Japanese ran during the war.  Hillenbrand gives a true testament to what the human spirit can endure, and to Zamperini, who survived to share his story. Powerful story of survival, keeping your dignity, and living beyond what you've lived through.

I Still Dream About You
Fannie Flagg
What can I say? Fannie Flagg has had a place in my heart since Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.  This is a gem, full of Southern charm, wisdom, love and look at that! A murder thrown into it that threatens secrets that members of the town would rather let lie. Delightful little heart-tugger that will make you smile while you read it.

                              Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane
Since I first met Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro in A Drink Before the War, they became my favorite PI couple. I was sad to hear that this is the last time we would get to hang around with them~~but at least it's a good send off. There are six books in this series, I will say that you have to read Gone, Baby, Gone before you read Moonlight Mile. It gives you the background of why everyone is where they are in Moonlight Mile. Gritty, hard-boiled noir with interesting secondary characters~~great series, terrific book. 

I'd Know You Anywhere
Laura Lippman
Eliza Benedict was fifteen years old when Walter Bowman kidnapped her and held her captive for six weeks. He also kidnapped another girl, who he killed. Eliza is now 38, married with two children. Bowman, in jail for killing and raping his latest victim contacts her. Memories come flooding back as well as questions: What does he want? What does he want from her? Why is he so insistent she contact him? 
This is one of Lippman best psychological thrillers so far and will keep you on the edge of your seat

 A Journey: My Political Life
 Tony Blair
I liked this biography by Blair. He tells us about his rise to power as head of the New Labour party in a landslide victory. What interested me the most was his view, and opinion, on the Iraqi War, and I wasn't disappointed. Blair proves himself to be savvy, charming and has quite the sense of humor.


Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Sklott
***Please read previous blog about this book. It was the best book I read this year.

                             It's a Book                                       
Lane Smith
Love this book and this is the book I am giving to those who will appreciate what it means. While this may look like a book for kids, it's definilty not for young kids, but a good gift for most ages. It's a delight to read: a digital techie donkey vs the literary gorilla. For me, a reminder that there is nothing like a book.

There you go! My very strong, and varied, suggestions of great books to give to the readers in your life.
May your days be merry and bright, your Christmas and New Year's be full of joy and peace.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Whenever science makes a discovery,
the devil grabs it while the angels are debating the best way to use it.
Alan Valentine

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

This is a fascinating account of how one woman became one of the most important people in the world and would never know it. Insight into science, medicine, racism, poverty, cancer and how things were in 1951 all come together is this eyeopener of a book.

Henrietta Lacks, unknowingly, was the mother of the HeLa cells. These were the only human cells to live and reproduce outside of the body. If you could pile all Henrietta's cells and weigh them, they would weigh over 50 million metric tons. Thanks to the HeLa cells, we came to have the polio vaccine, uncovered secrets about cancer, help for a cure for HIV and AIDS. They advanced sciece with invitro- fertilization, cloning, gene mapping and effects of the fall-out from the atomic bomb. HeLa cells went into space on one of the first space flights to see how human cells reacted in space. All these amazing miracles from one woman who died in 1951 of cervical cancer in John Hopkins Hospital.

One of the things that science and doctors were trying to do during this era was reproduce human cells to do research on, and until Henrietta, this had never happened. Healthy cells and cancerous cells were removed from Henrietta before her surgery, without her knowledge,  and sent out to see if they would live outside the body. Henrietta was not the first to have cells removed and sent out to see if they lived and reproduced outside the body, it was something done on other patients, but hers were different. Doctors were astounded to find that Henrietta cells not only lived, but reproduced at an amazing rate. You can imagine the excitement with this discovery.

Skloot does a wonderful job of putting a face on the woman behind the cells. The background on Henrietta Lacks isn't always happy; a poor, young black woman who worked on the family tobacco farm, raised in a house full of relatives after her mother died; she had five children of her own before she was 32. This didn't stop Henrietta from going out and dancing with her cousin Sophie at the local jazz place. Henrietta knew something was wrong with her, Henrietta went to John Hopkins Hospital several times before they discovered  her cervical cancer. The treatment for women with cervical cancer will make your mouth hang open, but again, it was 1951 and this was how it was treated. 

So begins the story of the wondrous and amazing things that the world has this woman to thank for.

While the HeLa cells became a multi-million dollar business, Henrietta's family was unaware of this. While the name of the originator of the HeLa cells was well known among the medical and scientific community~~doctors even went back to the family to take more blood tests to see if they had cells that reproduced also, telling the family they were testing to make sure they didn't have cancer like the one that killed their mother.

The HeLa cells became a multi-million dollar business for some, a medical marvel for doctors and a scientific bonanza for research, the Lacks family had no knowledge of any of this.

It took Skloot time and patience to earn the trust of the Lacks family. Other reporters had come around and it hadn't gone well. The family was wary of what Skloot would get out of writing a book about Henrietta, they had no idea what was accomplished from Henrietta cells. While some of the family wanted monetary reimbursement for the selling of her cells, they also wanted recognition for Henrietta from the medical and scientific fields.

I had to keep reminding myself that this happened in Baltimore, not the deep South. The Lacks family was alarmed to find that Henrietta's cells were still alive and reproducing. They envisioned that there were clones of Henrietta walking around England; that her cells were used to make half-human half-animal creatures; did it hurt when they injected viruses into her cells to infect them to see how they would react. Most of all, if Henrietta was so important to medicine and science, how come her children couldn't afford health insurance?

This is a non-fiction that reads like fiction~~I read it in three days because I couldn't put it down. I stayed up until 2 in the morning reading it. It was the most fascinating book I have read in a long time and the best book I read this year. This book is so rich in information about science, medicine, and how one person can unknowingly change the world. Skoolt takes no sides on who was right and who was wrong with what transpired. Was it ethically right what was done to Henrietta Lacks? Was it morally right what the family went though?

For me, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Put it on your to read list, you will be so glad you did. 

Happy Reading!