Your Next Great Read

I’ve said in the past, both here and elsewhere (Twitter and FB), that I mostly don’t buy books, being a major library fan and user (and yet, in our recent move, what did we have the most boxes of?? Books, of course!)

However, I DO buy books when I love them and am sure I’ll want to read them again. I just took advantage of Borders closing a huge store here in the Boston area to pick up a copy of one of my newest favorite author’s books, Tawni O’Dell‘s Sister Mine. And then I stopped by Harvard Book Store the next morning to purchase the newly released paperback of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I’ve rhapsodized over this wonderful book previously, so I’ll let you go there to read what I think about that, and continue here with your next great read.

Saying Tawni O’Dell is my “newest favorite” isn’t quite right, as my first exposure to her was via her second book, Coal Run, a few years ago. I remember being blown away at the time by her luminescent prose. There were phrases that just jumped out at me and I had to read over and over, to try to absorb their poetry. When I was inspired to get Sister Mine out of the library again, it only took reading about 1/4 of the book before I knew I had to have a copy for my own.

Coal Run was preceded by Back Roads – both of which I would have purchased as well except that Borders didn’t have any copies.

Sister Mine is the first-person narrative of Shae-Lynn Penrose – a cabdriver in the small Pennsylvania coal town of Jolly Mount; former Capitol Police officer; single mother of a grown young son; daughter of her dead and very brutal coal-miner father; and older sister to the missing and presumed-dead-for-eighteen-years Shannon Penrose – who now turns out to be very much alive.

As the story develops, you learn more and more about Shae-Lynn; how she lives her life, and what that “how” is in response to, in her past. I became more and more drawn to her, feeling like I would love to know her in real life (almost like a social media friend!) The plot twists and turns and I rooted for Shae-Lynn to get the positive outcome she deserved. She learns things about her sister and about her own life that she would never have wished to know, but which bring her out of her self-imposed fantasies about the past into a life which can be better than she ever thought.

And where has Shannon been all these years? Shae-Lynn was convinced (on nearly no evidence at all) that their father had killed Shannon, and that was why no one had ever heard from her. The truth is more surprising and heart-wrenching even than that.

And, as with her other books, Ms. O’Dell’s prose shines. It’s engaging and memorable. Another book (all of her books, really) about which I say: Get it! Read it! You’ll enjoy it.


Why I’m Just Not Excited About Twitter Anymore…

I recently was put in temporary charge of my employer’s Twitter account, so I started paying attention to both that stream, and to my own, using Hootsuite (which is a pretty useful tool, btw).

What I’ve noticed is what I felt I’d been seeing for quite awhile already in my own Twitter stream. Nobody’s actually TALKING to each other. In my own account, I follow about 800 people, and over 1400 follow me. In my employer’s account, we follow nearly 5900 people and close to 6900 follow us. Maybe, in both cases, it’s just way too many, I don’t know…

In both accounts, what I see all the time is people just posting stuff – links, thoughts, RTs, etc. But very seldom does anyone actually respond to what someone else (read, me!) has posted – even when the tweet specifically “@mentions” another person. There are few conversations actually being started up, or followed up on.

Is it me? Seems like when I was most active in Twitter, about 18 months ago, I was having actual interactions with people. Now? almost never.

So, I moved on to Facebook. Yes, it’s true. I’m one of those crazies. But NOT a game-player, by the way. You’ll never find me in Farmville or wherever. I “hide” almost all the posts from FB friends that are just game or app status updates. I’ve found it means I miss nearly everything from a few of my FB friends (>cough – brother! cough<) but even so, I participate in many more actual conversations and interactions with people there.

I feel seen, noticed, recognized – unlike on Twitter. And am building some nice on-line friendships there, not only with old IRL friends, but with Tweeters and bloggers who I especially enjoy.

So, if you want to check in with me there (I comment A LOT on my friends’ posts, by the way 🙂 ) feel free to send a friend request: I promise I’ll at least message you back, and probably confirm the request, too.

What to Read Next… if you, or someone in your life, are 5(ish) – or even if not!

One of my very fave bloggers, The Bloggess, also lives at the Houston Chronicle’s Good Mom/Bad Mom blog. She posted a request to her readers the other day to recommend books her 5-year-old daughter and she might enjoy together.

So, here’s the thing about Jenny. EVERYONE loves her. Really. So, when she asks a question, she gets the most wonderful answers and comments. As an inveterate and life-long reader I was truly overwhelmed with the wide-ranging and enchanting selection of books Jenny’s commenters suggested.

I’m going to start up a new TBR library list from the comments. I’m wracking my brain trying to think of situations in which I could volunteer to read to kids, just for the joy of getting to read these books myself, both those I know and the ones I don’t, and for the delight of sharing them. I don’t have any littles in my life at the moment 😦  I wonder about homeless shelters for families, for instance… Any other suggestions??

If you’ve been here before…

… you may notice both the new URL, which is more correctly reflective of the blog’s title, and the new theme – that came along with the newly-set-up URL. Nice, huh? Of course, you’ve probably seen it a million places already, as it’s the new default WordPress theme for 2010. >choke<

But, for a little while, I’m going to keep it. Because that picture? REALLY draws me in. I love photos that make you want to step right into them and walk down the lane, or over the hill, or whatever’s there.

Hope you like it too!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks

Update 4/14/10: Now with linky-love to the book.

I have just finished a most profound book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, about the first line of so-called “immortal” human cells and the woman from whose body they came.

Henrietta Lacks was a young married woman and mother of five who lived in Baltimore MD in the 1940s.  In 1951, after being in pain for over a year and throughout her final pregnancy, Henrietta went to the gynecology clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital to see a doctor about a “knot on [her] womb”.

This is the story of what happened when Henrietta’s certainty that something was wrong with the neck of her womb, her cervix, turned out to be true. During the treatment for the tumor, which involved inserting a tube filled with radium into her cervix, the surgeon cut samples of both the tumor and normal tissue from Henrietta’s cervix. These were taken to a Hopkins doctor who had been working for thirty years to grow malignant cells outside the body, trying to find cancer’s cause and cure.

Unlike other human cells the doctors had worked with, which died out very quickly, the cancerous cells from Henrietta Lacks turned out to be “immortal”. That is, cells from the original sample continuously divided and replenished themselves — the cell line never died. In fact, “They grew twenty times faster than Henrietta’s normal cells, which died [after] only a few days. As long as they had food and warmth, Henrietta’s cancer cells seemed unstoppable.” [p 41.] It was the first time that any researcher ever found cells which did this.

What happened next, what the researchers did with those cells, and what happened to Henrietta’s family are all core pieces of this wonderfully-written story. After being diagnosed and treated, Henrietta went on with her life — what else could she do, after all? She alternated between days of treatment and weeks at home.

But the immortal cells took on a life of their own. They were replicated and replenished, and sent in vials and small containers all over the country and finally the world: over time they were used in cancer research, used to confirm the efficacy of the polio vaccine, used in the development of virology and in diagnosing genetic disorders, and much more.

After a number of months of treatment, Henrietta finally succumbed to the cancer. Her cells lived on, but for over 20 years, the Lacks family: Day, her husband; her three sons, Lawrence, Sonny, and Joe, who later was known as Zakariyya; and her younger daughter Deborah, never knew anything about that or that the cell line, known as HeLa, flourished and had a most profound effect on medical research and the progress of science. For much of that time as well, even very few doctors and researchers knew where the cells had come from.

Ms. Skloot expertly weaves the stories of Henrietta and her life, the lives of her children, her medical story and the immortality of the cells, as well as her own arc of discovery of the story of the cells, into a well-crafted tale moving between eras and various developments in medical science. She spent a decade researching the story of the HeLa cells and their “donor” (even though Henrietta never knew they’d been taken from her — it was long before the advent of informed consent). She developed a relationship with the Lackses, especially Deborah, that allowed her intimate access to the story and allows us, the readers, to dive deeply into the tale. In the end, the author became a trusted and good friend to Deborah and others in the immediate and extended family. Her kindness and determination to make sure Henrietta’s story and those of her family were properly and truthfully told makes this book very worth anyone’s time.

Get it. Read it. I highly recommend it.