Reading Roundup

One of my favorite librarians ever is Nancy Pearl.  Nancy is often noted first of all as being the model for the Librarian Action Figure

"with amazing shushing action"

[and yes, I have one!].  However, she is also the creator of the popular initiative “One Community, One Book.”  She is an extraordinarily gifted book reviewer and reader’s advisor.

I heard her on NPR’s Morning Edition one morning earlier this summer with her latest picks, and on the basis of her recommendation alone, I took on the book Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch.  This book was a real stretch for me.  I am no fan of science fiction or fantasy.  It probably helped that I was thinking  of it as a mystery, a genre which I do enjoy.

The narrator is London police constable Peter Grant.  He’s funny in a sarcastic way, and that’s always appealing to me [just ask my family].   He encounters a ghost at a crime scene, and from that point on, we are on a romp through the supernatural, into mythology and history.  Oh, and we also see Peter unravel the mystery.  If you want to read Nancy’s review, and see what else she recommended that day, just click here:  http://www.npr.org/2011/06/23/137084790/nancy-pearl-presents-10-terrific-summer-reads.

Using the library’s Overdrive ebook collection, I finally got around to reading Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. [Quick sidebar: It was fun to discover that Henrietta Lacks was originally from Clover, Virginia, one county over from us in Halifax]. Skloot’s book highlights the contribution of Ms. Lacks to medical science.  She went to Johns Hopkins University Hospital with cervical cancer, and during her treatment, cells were taken.  Those cells, named HeLa after their donor, proved to be  magnificently proficient in their ability to reproduce, unlike the cells that had been tried in the past. However, as Skloot points out, the term “donor” is not really accurate; the cells were taken with no knowledge or consent on the part of the patient.  Yet their astonishing ability to be grown, to reproduce, has given science the opportunity to study many diseases and conditions.  HeLa cells have made an enormous contribution to the advancement of human knowledge.

Lacks’s family, and Skloot’s relationship to them, is central to the book.   There’s a messiness to scientific research, and Skloot successfully shines a light on it.  Scientists all over the world have benefitted, very often financially, from Henrietta’s cells.  Meanwhile, her family has struggled to have the basic necessities of food and shelter throughout life.  They, for example, cannot afford medical care, even though much of that care would be predicated on the discoveries made using their relative’s cells.  The book finds a way to tease these contradictions out and examine them.   It’s a fascinating story, and raises many unresolved ethical questions, too.

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