Monday, August 08, 2011

Book 13 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I think one of my least favorite, but most often asked-of questions is, "What kind of books do you like to read?" It's mostly just frustrating in its misguideness. 

Why in the world would you limit yourself to "one kind" of books?  I know there are people out there who do such a thing, and I salute them for even picking up a book at all, but am frustrated by close and yet so far they are from having their lives changed. 

For example, when forced to give an answer besides, "everything," to the above-mentioned question, I often spout "post-apocalyptic fiction." Which pisses people off because they want you to say something that can be easily categorized.  If they continue the conversation (I find that this answer can be a turn-off to many) and let me explain (Margaret Atwood, Hunger Games, blah blah) they then eventually ask, "wow, are there a lot of books out there like that?"  The answer, at least according to me is, "in the grand scheme of things, not really." Which is why I hate the pigeon hole it puts me in.  How frustrating to be leaving David Sedaris, Erik Larson and others off my most favorites list. 

Anyway - soap box aside, I love all books.  Some more than others, but I am willing to give anything a shot.

image (via)

Creative Non-fiction is always a genre I forget how much I love.  To be learning real facts AND being entranced by a fascinating story?  Epic. Win. 

Boyfriend recently discovered how awesome books are and his somewhat creative non-fiction bent has been a fantastic ying to my crazy-dramatic-make-'em-ups fiction yang.  He has a whole pile of books that I cannot wait to get my fingers on, but I started with this (bought by me, not by him - for book club). 

Ms. Skloot spins a pretty fantastic yarn.  I don't want to get bogged down in summary - but this book is about the first "immortal" cells - the HeLa cells, which essentially revolutionized science and the woman (and her family) that they were taken from.  Its a hefty story to undertake, and from what I read - she put in her time.  She researched and worked for over a decade for this story to come alive, and for someone who cannot focus on something for more than 5 days without totally losing interest, I am completely in awe of her dedication.

However. I wish there was less of her in the book.  I feel as though I am reading her story of learning about these people and things when I wish I was just learning about the people and things.  Maybe I'm wrong, and it would lose a lot of the relatability if you took out her perspective, but to me- it feels as though she is trying to bestow upon us, her knowledge, rather than the knowledge that just exists.  When you read Devil in the White City - Mr. Larson is not a part of your experience.  And I think, that is what I love so much about it.  It transports me back to that time.

And, to be totally fair- the events of this book happened/are still happening much more recently than most creative non-fiction I am used to reading.  So that changes things.  But I still couldn't shake the fact that I wanted less of her, more of these people.

I have to give her mad props though - talk about being at the right place at the right time.  Affordable, accessible health care has always been a struggle in low-income area (obvs.) but I feel as though in the current political climate, this book struck a particular cord that resonates louder than it may have 10 years ago. 

I will be totally honest with you - parts of this book made me cry, and some made me seethe with the injustice of it all.  Mostly it just overwhelmed me with how much I truly did not know about the lack of true privacy in the world. 

I was fully aware that my spirit, and my image will live in infamy on these crazy internet tubes, but I honestly had no idea that if I was at a hospital (which I haven't been really yet, but give it time) - any bits they take out of me, I no longer own or have control over.  Of course there are forms and what not, but the thing that I got most out of this book is that releasing control of your cells, the things that physically make you, you - sitting, reading, breathing, digesting is what needs to happen for any sort of advancement in science.  It's some what violating to think, not just because they take what makes up you, but that you can't really control it.

If that doesn't freak you out enough, just think at least I am giving you the heads up...there are people (Ms. Lacks being one of them) who had their cells taken without anyone telling them or their families.  And while the idea of monetary compensation is a huge one (though not one I want to get into) it is something to just know.  Know that your cells are out there changing things - and if my cells are the secret to curing something (I really hope its morning breath or why I biologically need to eat a whole bag of yogurt covered pretzels in a day) than I am stoked I am doing my part.

I just want the people who give their cells (ie - everyone) to all have equal access to the medical advancements that might come out of it - regardless of financial situation.  Its really only fair.

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She's pint-sized and amazing.