Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is a book I never would have chosen to read on my own.  As  most of my books these days are book club selections rather than my own, this book got read.  But then again that is why I joined a book club, to read books I normally wouldn’t pick up and read on my own.  I went in to this reading tentatively, I hadn’t voted for this book and I really didn’t think that I would like it, but I did.  It wasn’t a can’t put’er down book, but when I choose to sit down and read it, it kept me interested and I didn’t give up.
The book itself is about Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as the HeLa, that was collected in 1951 from her cervical cancer cells.  These cells have been used in multiple research projects and helped lead to the vaccine for polio.  They have been one of the greatest contributions to medical advancement, yet they were essentially stolen from Henrietta and used without her permission.  The book not only finally shares the life of this woman, whose legacy was never imagined in her wildest dreams. It also explores the ethical questions surrounding taking tissue samples used in research with out the patient’s consent and just how much consent needs to be given.  
When I started the book I was outraged that the Lacks family had seen no benefits from the sale of Henrietta’s cells, that her children couldn’t afford health care and her were so poor.  They had limited education and were taken advantage of multiple time, until Ms. Skloot came along to write her novel, no one even bothered to tell them what was really happening with their mother’s cells.  They were in the dark, hearing only tabloid type stories, and no one even tried to reach out to them.  I was so angry, but by the end of the book I could see the scientific communities point of view and their concerns over being able to advance medicine.  I still don’t think the Lacks family was treated well or fairly, but I wasn’t as angry.  
The writing was good, Ms. Skloot tried to tell the facts without being so technical the reader gets lost, she also tried to tell the Lacks story in their own words.  The result is a wonderful humanistic scientific piece.  I'm not sure that is even a real phrase, but that is what it is.  Some of the sections are in the family members own words and were a little harder to read, but all in all Ms. Skloot did an amazing thing bringing Henrietta's story into the light where she could be recognized for her contribution and her family could finally know the truth of what her cells were and what they were doing.
(Read 10/28/13-11/12/13)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dune by Frank Herbert

Whew..finally some time to write.  This is a BOTM selection. I really like Dune, this is not my first reading and I have seen the movie a couple of times so I know what's going on. Saying that, I think this is the best book in the series, the other never really held me like this one does. And man does it feel good to be back to a genre I love with a story line that holds me and makes me not want to put the book down.
This is the story of Paul Atreides, a young duke, and his rise to power as a religious messiah for the natives of Arrakis.  His Father is betrayed and murdered and he finds his way amongst a savage civilization. This is a power struggle for the whole universe, but as all power struggles start is just between two people, it grows to engulf two families and grows until the entire universe is drawn in. We just come into the story near the end. This was written between 1959 and 1965, and to me it has a lot of the themes of the time, religion, politics, evolution, philosophy. Herbert asks a lot of big questions in a digestible way, mainly where are we going as a whole and how do we want to be when we get there.  It still feels current to me with all the technological  advances we have made and the ethical questions that revolve around our scientific advances.  it gives me food for thought on our entire society, I guess the same questions have been being asked for 50 years now, and we still are unsure.
I think Herbert does a great job setting up the motivations and the characters, Paul is so young and smart and the world's events are about to take him over and change him so. Jessica is using her whole person and all her skills to protect her family, and the Duke, well the duke is noble and tragic and if he had just been a little less proud thing would have gone different, but then he wouldn't have inspired the loyalty he does. And the Harkoneans are diabolical and cruel as all bad guys should be.
I was sad Leto died and pissed that the Baron had a lucky escape at the end of book I. But I guess you can't kill the main villain in the first part. I think Leto died valiantly and I'm always glad that he didn't die a cowering mess or tortured to death, he went on his own terms thanks to Dr Yeul. And strangely I don't hate Dr. Yeul, his hand was forced and his betrayal was awful but at least he saved Paul and Jessica and allowed Leto a chance to take out the Baron. What kills me is how much time is skipped between the end of book one and the start of book three. Paul has a kid and is a true favorite part is where he rides the worm. But just so much is skipped.
The ending was good, it did leave some things open ended, but not so much that if you don’t want to read the rest in the series you feel that it is incomplete.  It is obviously part of a series, but at the same time it has the ability to be a standalone book as well. (Read 9/16/13-10/27/13)