Friday, December 24, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is one of the most talked about non-fiction books of the year. It is a good mixture of narrative about Henrietta and her family and textbook knowledge about cells, research and scientists.

In the early 1950s, when African Americans had few rights and were segregated in hospital wards and many other public places, a young woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed and dying from what doctors eventually diagnosed as cervical cancer. While doctors were operating on her tumor they took a sample of the cancer cells without her consent. Her husband did consent to an autopsy after being told that the information gained could assist his family in medical issues in the future. Doctors had spent years trying to grow cells in test tubes and had before then been unsuccessful. With Henrietta's cells, named HeLa cells, they found cells that multiplied constantly. These cells changed the ways doctors researched everything- cancer, polio, leukemia, etc. The only practice in question is that Henrietta's family was never informed of the discovery or the fact that money was being made from HeLa cells.

The book follows Henrietta's family as they learn about the cells and struggle to learn about the mother that most of her children were too young to remember when she died. The family deals with a lot of anger about being mislead and kept in the dark. One troubling fact is that their mother's cells helped so many advances in medicine be possible while most of Henrietta's family lived without medical insurance.

In the afterword Skloot suggests that the two main issues at hand are consent and money. Should doctors have to get patient consent before taking and using cells and tissue for research? and if money is made from the cells, tissue or research should the original "owner" of the tissue get compensated? Throughout the book I thought of how I feel about these two issues. I think that yes, patient consent should be sought before doctors take and use them. However, I would hate that new discoveries, etc could be stalled because some patients don't consent to their tissue and cells being used. I'm pretty sure if asked I would give consent but I would like the chance to say yes or no. It would be very hard to track exactly how much profict was gained from one person's tissue to compensate them. Maybe if compensation is considered patients are just compensated one time for their contribution.

It's an interesting topic and a very interesting book. I enjoyed the book, especially the story of Henrietta and her family. I thought the book got a little bogged down in the technical information even though it was necessary to understand the book. What are your thoughts? Have you read the book? Want to read it? How do you feel about the issues at hand?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

"There is no room for pity on a farm."

This is the second time I have read Mudbound in the past year (once because it sounded like a great book and twice because my book club is going to discuss it next weekend). I would read it again and plan to recommend it to everyone I know. What a read! Hillary Jordan is a very skilled writer and I look forward to more from her.
The title comes from the name given to the farm the McAllan family lives on. Henry McAllan moves his family to the farm he has always dreamed of with the promise that they will live a more civilized life in town. This idea falls through and the family ends up living in a run-down house on the always muddy farm.
The story is told from the point of view of all of the players in this story- Laura, Henry, Jamie (Henry's brother who has returned from WWII), Florence (the sharecropper's wife who live son the land and helps Laura with daily life), Hap (Florence's husband), Ronsel (the sharecropper's son who has also returned from the war). Another player in this story, Pappy (the matriarch) doesn't help tell the story but is a large part of it.
In the time that the book takes place race relations were still strained. However, the sharecroppers and the McAllan family get along just fine. When both sons return from the war and begin to find solace in their shared experiences people begin to talk and tensions rise to a climax that left me tense as you read on to the outcome.
Jordan is skilled at ending chapters with hints of what's to come and sprinkles in details that catch your attention and make you start piecing the story together. Every character in the story was guilty of one thing or another but also needed and wanted something true in their hearts. I think that is what made all of them so believable.
Have you read Mudbound? What did you think? Will you be adding it to your to-read list? Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Carry Me Home

My book club recently read and discussed Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring. A few years ago we read The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra so we were sure we would enjoy Carry Me Home also. I really enjoyed the book. The narrator, Earwig, is a simpleton whose older brother goes off to war during WWII. Kring did a great job not over doing the way Earwig misuses words or misunderstands things. He was quite funny and crude! This story is a glimpse into a small town whose sons went off to war. Everyone holds everyone else up and helps them through the long days of absence. Our group decided that the title was exemplified in each person helping another in need and "carrying" them. A quote from the book:

"You just walk through your days, Floyd," Jimmy says, and he's got teary eyes too. "And when you feel like you're going to fall on your ass again, you just grab tight to the first person that's nearby and you hold on until you steady yourself enough to take another step."
I felt Kring did a great job inserting historical facts without weighing down the story. I learned many new facts about the war and the treatment of soldiers when they came back. If you haven't read Sandra Kring yet, what are you waiting for?
Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where Have I Been?

WOW! I can't believe it has been so long since I have blogged about my reading. Don't really have a good excuse. I did read 11 books between now and then- some of the great, some not so much!

I just finished reading One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. I heard about it through a blog that introduces titles that could be possible Newbery Medal winners. I completely disagree about this book. I didn't care for it at all. Three sisters travel across the country to stay with the mother that abandoned them. She is involved with The Black Panthers. Much of the story deals with The Black Panthers and events around that time period. I thought it was very vague and scattered. In the end I didn't think there was enough that happened in the book or enough change in the characters.

Here are links to the other books I have read since my absence with stars next to my faves:

Now for what is on the to read list:

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Comfort by Ann Hood

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

I'm not sure which one to read first. I'm leaning towards Bonobo Handshake or The Other Wes Moore. They both sounds fascinating. Since it won't stop raining here in Texas maybe I'll get all of them read soon. I promise not to be gone too long this time!

What are you reading?

Happy Reading

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Brave and Broken

This holiday weekend has afforded me the chance to get a jump start on my poetry reading.
I have finished both Home of the Brave and All the Broken Pieces.
They were both beautiful and very well written.
I want to talk about both first and then speak to each individually.
Both stories weave together the stories or people who on the surface seem very different but the more you look, the more similar their circumstances.
In both stories the narrators are young boys who have come to America to escape war- from Vietnam and Sudan.

Kek is the narrator of Home of the Brave. Most of his family was killed in the violence familiar to Sudan.
He is brought to live with his extended family in Minneapolis.
The author does a wonderful job of allowing the reader to see the world through the eyes of Kek, who is experiencing so much for the first time- snow, airplanes, escalators.
Kek befriends Hannah, a foster child who lives in his apartment building
and an older lady who is also in transition.
I don't want to give too much away.
I loved the poeticness (might have invented a word there but you know what I mean!).
The words paint a lovely picture even though the story is at times bleak.

The night Ganwar lost his hand
was the night I lost
my father and brother
the night of men in the sky with guns
the night the earth opened up like a black pit
and swallowed my old life whole.
Here is an interview with the author, Katherine Applegate.

I must confess that I started reading the second half of All the Broken Pieces this morning thinking that it wasn't as strong of a story as Home of the Brave.
Well, I cried through the last 20 pages and changed me mind!
I do think that Home of the Brave is more poetic but the story of Matt in All the Broken Pieces really got me.
Matt was airlifted out of Vietnam and adopted by a family.
The story takes place a couple years after the Vietnam war and tensions are still high.
The story follows Matt as he tries out for the baseball team and learns to play the piano.
I know that doesn't sound like much but he encounters people who are also broken and they are each able to help one another.
I think in some ways we are all broken and if we looked deep enough we would find similarities and be able to help each other.
The connection to the cover photograph of a torn baseball is beautiful in this story.

Both books have led me to further reading: The Things They Carried, July, July, and A Long Way Gone.

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Poetry Pile

April is National Poetry Month and I {heart} poetry. So why not a month of poetry reading? I teach at an elementary school so most of the books in my pile could be used with elementary students but they can also be enjoyed by adults. Poetry is amazing to me- with so few words you can say so much. It's definitely an art. I will be reading some novels in verse and some poetry collections.

Novels in Verse:

Poetry Collections:

Do you enjoy poetry? What is your favorite collection? Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

City of Thieves

City of Thieves has been on my TBR list for a while and when I saw that it was available at the library I scooped it up and enjoyed it. I don't read male authors very often- not for any particular reason necessarily. I think I just relate to the subject matter that women write about better? Is that stereotyping, close minded, etc? Hope not!

The premise behind City of Thieves just intrigued me. Two young men,Lev and Kolya, in a lot of trouble with the Russian army for different reasons, are given the task of finding a dozen eggs for a high ranking official's daughter's wedding. The two set off to find the eggs- really a very dangerous wild goose chase- and encounter many episodes ranging from disgusting, to hilarious, to shocking. Of course, since the novel is written by a man and the two main characters are male there is some sexual conversations. That type of conversation doesn't normally show up in the books I read but it takes a lot to offend me! :)

In reading two interviews with David Benioff I learned that he did very extensive research including travelling to St Petersburg. The reader is given the impression that this story is part of his grandfather's history. You learn in the interviews that it is just part of his fictional novel that he is hearing this story from his grandfather. I think that part could have been left out.

Have anyone else read City of Thieves? What about The Book Thief? I have read so much about it and picked it up in the bookstore yesterday and was surprised by the format? Anyone else?

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Housekeeper and the Professor

I enjoyed The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. The premise of the books is very interesting and a brave endeavor for a writer. The professor from the title is a mathematical genius that was in a terrible car accident and only has 80 minutes of memory before it is erased and starts over. Anything before the accident he remembers. So the housekeeper has to reintroduce herself each day, etc. I thought Ogawa handled this idea very well without it taking over the book or things not adding up. The characters she brought together were very different and memorable but I felt that the whole book was a little surface level and I didn't get to know any of them very well. However, all in all it was a good read that I would recommend to others.

When I finish a book I love to go to and see what else they recommend. Here are a few suggestions from The Housekeeper and the Professor:

I am adding the three above to my t0-read list on The School of Essentials Ingredients, Cutting for Stone, and A Reliable Wife.
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Progress on the Pile

I know everyone is wondering how I am progressing through the pile of books I featured a while ago. Here is the update:

* The Happiness Project is still patiently waiting by my bed.
* Drive and The Children's Blizzard were returned to the library unread but I might revisit them soon. There are more urgent read waiting= Reading Rumble list.
* I finished Identical Strangers and The Housekeeper and the Professor. Will blog about those soon.
* I abandoned Let the Great World Spin.
* The Mercy Papers is still waiting. I can't bring myself to read about a woman's mother dying when my dad just underwent major surgery this morning. Maybe when my heart isn't so fragile.

I am currently reading Fever, 1793 and Surprises According to Humphrey.

Here is more of what I' ve been reading.

What are you reading?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Get Off The Bus

I just finished Piper Reed, Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt. It is one of the Reading Rumble/Bluebonnet books. It was cute. Piper says "Get off the bus" as many of us would say "Get out of here." She deals with a lot of issues that chidlren her age deal with. I thought the book was nicely tied together at the end without being too sappy. Will definitely have to introduce third and fourth graders to Piper.
Kimberly Willis Holt has written quite a few books for elementary aged students and this isn't her first appearnace on the Texas Bluebonnet List. Her book When Zachary Beaver Came to Town was on the list about 8 years ago. Funny how I can place myself in a certain classroom, at a certain school by the books on the Bluebonnet list! :) There are three Piper Reed books to enjoy as well.
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let's Get Ready to Rumble...

Last year my school district started a fun program called Reading Rumble. I'm sure lots of school districts do something similar. A list is established that 3-5 grade students are to read from and then each school's team's get together for a rumble. It involves answering questions and identifying quotes from the books. I'm not always in favor of questions and activities after reading. I'm a just read kinda gal but if it gets students excited about reading and talking about books then let's rumble. I am joining my school librarian in meeting with our team of students. So I will be trying to read the books on the list. There is a good mix of chapter books and pictures books. Have you read any of the books? I will be checking back in with my progress and some info about the books. Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The To-Be-Read Pile

When I am ready for a new book I like to have choices. So off I went to the library today (after paying a hefty fine!) to gather some new possibilities. I love using the library for one main reason: it's FREE (except for the aforementioned fines!)! If I don't enjoy a book like I thought I would I don't feel bad about abandoning it if I checked it out at the library. I have a mix of memoir, fiction, and non-fiction in my pile. I am currently reading Let the Great World Spin and it hasn't won we over yet. Of course, I bought it! The other books in my pile are: The Housekeeper and the Professor, The Mercy Papers, Identical Strangers, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, The Children's Blizzard and The Happiness Project. I better get to reading!

The Movie Was Better Than The Book

A few months ago I tried reading Julie and Julia (I hate when they change the book cover to the movie poster). I just couldn't read it! Julie, the narrator, was annoying and it read like stream of consciousness. So it is slated to make it's way to Half Price Books. But I did rent the movie the other night from one of those $1 kiosks. Well, I have now paid $6 to see the movie since I still haven't returned it! Story of my life! But, the movie was actually good. It isn't going to go down as my favorite movie but it was cute.

Some movies that were as good as the book: The Kite Runner (maybe just because I love the story), The Secret Life of Bees, and Mystic River. What movies did you enjoy as much as the book or walked out saying, "Was that the same story?"

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Sky Unwashed by Irene Zabytko

I'm not sure how I came to know about this book, probably suggested by I was only 12 and not very interested in current events when the Chernobyl accident took place. The Sky Unwashed is an account of the events and how the residents of a nearby town dealt with the aftermath. I liked the book for the historical knowledge I gained but some points of the book dragged on and seemed awkward. I now want to know more about the Chernobyl accident and the area today. I have found a few books: Voices from Chernobyl, Zones of Exclusion, and Chernobyl: Confession of a Reporter.

I'm also intersted in seeing Chernobyl Heart and Child of Chernobyl. I can't find either on Netflix so I will have to do some hunting.

Next on the to read list- Let the Great World Spin by COlum McCann.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Best of 2009 List

While blog hopping I happened upon this blog and this post. I immediately printed out the lists from the genres I enjoy and started investigating how many of the books on the lists I had read. I soon found that I hadn't read many at all and most of the titles I had never heard of. Does that make me a sheltered reader? Here are a few I have read:

I love historical fiction!

Here are a few from the list that like they have potential:

What's on your reading list?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In the beginning...

I have considered starting a blog for a while now and have decided to jump in. I will be blogging about my reading life. I enjoy reading for myself and reading in preparation for my job as a literacy coach, whether it be professional books or children's books to suggest to teachers and students.