Friday, August 05, 2011

The Summer 2011 Reading Spectacular #4

Still catching up.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is way up on my recommended list. If you were told, “It’s a book about a woman whose cancer cells were harvested in the 50s and ended up being used in innumerable medical studies and breakthroughs since then,” and your response was, “That doesn’t sound so fantastic,” I would understand where you were coming from, but you’d be very, very wrong. This book is pretty amazing.

It’s partly a book about the ethics and principles surrounding cell cultures as commodities. It’s partly the story of an impoverished black woman and her family. It’s entirely readable, entirely fascinating, and entirely a page-turner. I know – who would have thought?

That Rebecca Skloot somehow manages to cover all of this ground and more – the story of her own struggle to convince members of Henrietta Lacks’s family to even talk to her is quite a thread – while time-jumping between the 1950s, the 2000s, and several places in between, is quite remarkable, even more so since she manages to keep the material logical, followable (imagine that is a word), and quickly paced. The little timelines that head each chapter certainly assist in this.
A seriously good read.

I also read The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire, which collects three interconnected full-length stories with two mini-comic stories into one graphic novel. All set in a fictionalized version of Essex County, Ontario (the author’s hometown), the book captures grief, secrets, and hope over several generations in the community. Not really for kids, the graphic novel has gained quite a following as a piece of contemporary Canadian literature. The first story in the trilogy, "Tales from the Farm", is apparently in development as a movie (under the unfortunate name “Super Zero”).

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