Thursday, May 31, 2012

the immortal life of henrietta lacks by rebecca skloot

henrietta lacks was an african american woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. she received treatment at johns hopkins hospital where, before her death, some of her cells were harvested for biopsy and, more importantly, scientific research. 

her cells are significant because they were the first cells to successfully survive and grow in culture. the cell line, known as the HeLa cell line, reproduced at an astounding rate which opened the door for medical and biological research which had previously been stunted due to the quick death rates of cells once they were taken out of a body. 

the book tells the story of henrietta and and the family she left behind. she had not given permission for her cells to be used in scientific research and her family was not aware that they were being reproduced. this was standard practice for the time (and for a lot longer than you would venture to guess).

the book is full of medical history and questions/observations about medical research ethics and patients rights.

i learned a lot reading this book. the writer makes the science accessible and easy to understand. i learned things about the medical research field and surprised, and to be quite honest, enrage me. once tissue leaves your body (during an operation/biopsy/birth/etc.) it is no longer considered yours and the facility can use it or sell it for medical can read from this that they can make money from your tissue.  you do not have the right to demand your tissue be destroyed or block the facility from selling it.

the major source of anger on the part of the lacks family is that HeLa cells represent a multi-billion dollar industry, and they live in poverty, some of them living on the street. this brought to my mind the several moles i've had removed and the spleen that was taken out to cure my itp. no doubt some of my tissue has been used/sold. i don't necessarily have a problem with my tissue being used in research if it helps discover cures and save peoples' lives. but if i discovered that someone was making millions of dollars regrowing and selling my cells, you bet i would feel entitled to some of those proceeds. but i wouldn't be.  

i enjoyed this book so much more than i expected. i'm anxious to hand it off to my friends and family. 

cold comfort farm by stella gibbons

cold comfort farm has been on my list of books to read for about a decade, ever since i watched the movie in high school.

it is about flora poste, a young woman who cannot stand untidyness. upon the death of her parents, decides to go live with some relations in the country.

the relations agree to take "robert poste's child" on in order to make up for a wrong done to her father many years before, but she is warned to never ask about what the wrong was.

upon arriving at the farm flora is confronted with a backward group of relations who live in a broken-down farm. the bulk of the novel revolves around her efforts to tidy-up and organize the farm and lives of her relations.

cold comfort farm is a comic novel, poking fun at the popular novels of the time (much the same way as jane austen's northanger abbey pokes fun at the popular gothic novels of her time). it must not be taken too seriously. if you read it in the right frame of mind, it is immensely funny. if not, it comes off as ridiculous. 

the lesson to be learned, of course, is that the best answer to any question is, "i saw something nasty in the woodshed."

the house at tyneford by natasha solomons

this was a book club read.

it was pretty good, but don't be fooled by the caption on the front that compares it to downton abbey. it's not. it's nowhere near as compelling as downton abbey.

it's a bout a technically jewish girl (not religious at all) who had to flee austria to escape the nazi's. she ends up working as a servant in a manor house on the england's south coast.

going into our book club meeting several of us voiced concern that there wouldn't be anything to talk about, but it turned out we had a lot to talk about!

it was an enjoyable read and i appreciated several of the themes in the book: it's exploration of how the wars broke down the class divisions in england; the privations suffered by all during the wars; determination to survive despite suffering great loss.

the thing that stood out for me the most was the fact that the story was inspired by an actual place/events. at the end of the book the people living in the town are all forced from their homes by their own military with a promise they will be able to return after the war. in real life the village of tyneham was commondered by the military, turned into a target practice location, and never (NEVER, still to this day) returned to the owners. it reminded me of my days studying the revolutionary war in jr. high/high school, and one of the things we talked about that angered the colonists was the british troops demanding food and lodging in private homes without paying for it. it also reminded me of some of the civil rights we enjoy in america that are not rights in great britain. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

graceling by kristin cashore

i picked this book up sometime last year and have only now just got around to reading it.

it was okay. brain candy, beach reading sort of material.

as i'm writing this review several months later, i don't really have much to say. it's a bout a girl with a "grace" (a special ability). hers is the ability to kill with her bare hands (or is it?).

through the course of the story she rebels against her uncle and his use of her an an enforcer, discovers a conspiracy, goes on a quest, meets a boy . . . you get the picture.

good enough to get through, but i wouldn't necessarily pass it on to anyone and i have no desire to read any more books in the series.

Friday, May 11, 2012

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by mark haddon

this book has been on my to-read list for quite some time. the story is not really important; this book is really about perspective. it's told entirely from the point of view of a young autistic boy. 

i found several things particularly interesting:

- he talks about lying. he never lies. he explains that he doesn't lie because he can't figure out what to say. only one thing is the truth (i broke the lamp) while there are endless possibilities for the lie (the dog/aliens/robbers/etc. broke the lamp). he can't arbitrarily pick a non-truth. he becomes overwhelmed by the possibilities. 

- he talks about why he dislikes changes to his surroundings. it's not about familiarity and stability, but rather, he sees so much more than the normal person. he sees EVERYTHING. he easily becomes overwhelmed by external stimulus which renders him confused and unable to concentrate on specific things. when his environment is unchanged, it is easier for him to focus his attention on tasks or conversations, etc.

- talks about his problems with understanding people. it confuses him when people use phrases or colloquialisms like "i'm so hungry i could eat a horse," because you actually couldn't eat a horse. your stomach would explode if you sat down and ate a horse, etc.  he is also confused by non-specific instructions. he cannot follow the instruction "be quiet" because it is infinite, and he cannot possibly be expected to be quiet forever. he needs to be told "be quiet for 5 minutes" or some determinate amount of time.

- the logic he follows to come to conclusions is so absolute. once he has come to a conclusion or made a decision, it is almost impossible for him to accept another possibility.

with autism becoming more and more prevalent in society, i appreciated the opportunity to gain some understanding and perspective.