Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

In spite of my abnormally large head, I am far from what I would consider a brainiac. I did not excel in math and science and spent most of my education baffled by that subject matter.
So no one is more surprised than I am that I absolutely loved “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. I am not even sure why I chose this book. Probably only because the author shares my name. Seriously, I am that simple.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the beautiful story of a young mother who walked into Johns Hopkins Hospital complaining (although not much complaining from Henrietta) of a painful "knot" in her cervix and a bloody vaginal discharge. That day, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and the appearance of the tumor was unlike anything that had ever been seen by the examining doctor.
Cells from the carcinoma were removed from Henrietta’s body for research purposes without her knowledge or permission and became the first cells to be grown and kept alive in a laboratory.
This story covers the amazing science and discoveries in medicine following the discovery of Henrietta’s cells (known as HeLa) and the life and struggles of the family who knew nothing about the advances in medicine attributed to their beloved mother.
So while their mother’s cells were busy making medical history significantly contributing to major cancer research,
the polio vaccine, space missions, first cloned and mapped genes, atom bomb research, etc.
Henrietta’s family still cannot obtain medical insurance.
And while Henrietta lies in an unmarked grave in Virginia, there is not so much as a wing in Johns Hopkins Hospital to honor her amazing contribution to medicine and healing.
This book covers science, medicine, law .... and humanity. I smiled, chuckled, gasped and wept openly while reading this amazing story. The author brilliantly put it all into words I could easily comprehend as she did the same for Henrietta’s family. I absolutely recommend reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

On July 16 and 17, 1942 , more than 13,000 victims (mostly women and children) were arrested in Paris and held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver and the Drancy internment camp nearby, then shipped by rail to Auschwitz. The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, nickname for the Vélodrome d'Hiver: "Winter Velodrome" cycle track, was a Nazi decreed raid conducted by the French police. The roundup was one of several aimed at reducing the Jewish population in Occupied France. Very few of the transported Jews survived.
Sarah’s Key is a fictional story based on these horrifyingly factual events in the summer of 1942. Sarah’s story is heart-wrenching and difficult. The author, however, flip-flops between Sarah’s story and the story of an American journalist covering the 60th Anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Julia is an American who has been living in Paris for over twenty years, married to a French man and raising a child in Paris. She works for a newspaper catering to Americans living in France.
This back and forth between Sarah’s horrific experience and Julia’s modern day discoveries of those events makes it somewhat easier to read, although not nearly enough to take away the anguish and pain of Sarah’s story.
The first half of this book was riveting and nearly impossible to put down. However, once Sarah’s voice became silent, I found the story lost much of it’s luster. I liked the book very much, don’t get me wrong, and I still felt considerable compassion for Julia, but I missed hearing Sarah’s side of the story and the more intense facts surrounding it.
I missed her.
It is a sad, sad story.
On many levels.
This is a work of fiction albeit laced with graphic facts. It is not a text book. It is a story. Keeping that in mind, I would say it is worth reading.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Queen of Clichés

My mother, like her mother before her, is the Queen of Clichés. I, on the other hand, while growing up was the Princess of Literal. The Amelia Bedelia of Mellette Elementary, if you will. It led to a lot of confusion and misunderstandings around our house. Me thinking my mother was crazy and she, in turn, thinking I had special needs. I walked around scowling and mystified most of the time, while she was walking around betting dollars to doughnuts and taking stitches in time.
I never knew what on God’s green earth she was talking about!
“Well, if you can’t see the forest for the trees, Rebecca, I don’t know what to tell you!”
Ummm, clearly! We lived on the plains of South Dakota ... what trees?! What forest? What was I missing?!
“Pretty is as Pretty does, young lady!”
Who is Pretty and what the hell does she keep doing to get me into so much trouble?
It was baffling!
As I wandered across the street one sunny afternoon, I heard “REBECCA ANNE!” screeching across the airways.
“You didn’t look for cars any more than the man in the moon!”
Well, honestly, I probably was looking for the man in the moon which was why I didn’t see the car that nearly hit me!
My eyes were always bigger than my stomach and I was biting off more than I could chew. I was always looking a gift horse in the mouth, telling cock and bull stories, barking up the wrong trees and crying wolf ... although I have no recollection of doing any of these things.
I loved to draw when I was little and I remember asking my mother to join me.
“The only thing I can draw is a bath.”
I was fine with that, although while I never saw her actually do it, I couldn’t figure out why she could draw this (according to her):

but not this:

Seemed odd.
I was a curious child, although usually too frightened to ask questions. Mostly because the answers were always so cryptic and confusing. When I did venture to ask a well-thought out and provocative question, my mother would simply roll her eyes and say, “Heavenly Nose, Rebecca.”
I won’t even tell you how old I was when I figured out she was saying, “Heaven Only Knows”, which, while still not answering the questions, would have at least made more sense!
And my grandmother, in addition to her entirely different set of clichés, simply said bizarre things. She was weird.
“Grandma?” I once asked. “There are no chairs left at the table, where should I sit?”
“You could always sit on my thumb.”
For the life of me I still don’t know what that meant!

The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams

I feel like I bumped my head and received a concussion where my reading taste buds have lost their ability to ... well, taste. I feel like I haven’t enjoyed a book in a long, long time. Perhaps it’s simply because it took me a long, long time to read this book, which I did not enjoy.
The Room and the Chair was confusing and irritating. Like an annoyingly overzealous child who wants to be everything when he grows up, but can’t really make an intelligent decision on the subject.
There were too many quick-change jumps from here to there, person to person. I found it difficult to keep track of the story and even more difficult to find a reason to care. I did not feel connected to any one character and only mildly with one story line or another - story lines that never did climax or connect even to each other.
And I may have to see a doctor concerning this concussion!