RSS

Tag Archives: non-fiction

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

lets-pretend-this-never-happenedYou know that one friend that we all have who insists they had the weirdest childhood? And then when you ask for anecdotal proof, it’s always a wah-wah? Because, seriously. Who among us doesn’t have emotional scars from being raised by flawed beings?

But Jenny Lawson’s claim is not a “wah-wah.” It’s more of a “wha-what?!” Like the time she was chasing her little sister around her backyard and ran into the carcass of a deer cut open, splayed in half, and air-drying on the clothes line. And by “into” I mean ran inside of the deer and came out covered in deer insides. And THEN her father hosed her and the deer down and later served that deer as part of a meal. And then there was this other time where, after being chastised by her younger sister for being “weird” and a bit of loner, she went on a field trip with her class and ended up with her arm stuck inside of a cow’s hoo-haa. Because she was in the process of artificially inseminating it.

I am not making this stuff up, people. And neither is Lawson. And that’s what makes this book so ridiculously good. Lawson really did have an unusual childhood. And she really is an unusual adult. And she’s fine with you knowing that and even judging her. Because she doesn’t have time to care about what you think because vultures are trying to pick at the dead body of her snake-bitten dog, okay?! Or because she’s too busy convincing her husband that Jesus was, in fact, a zombie. Or that having a small, taxidermied alligator dressed as a pirate is worth having, even if it means setting off airport security alerts on the way home. She’s just too busy.

I don’t know. I might just have a soft spot for the weird and awkward. But I think this book puts you in such a shock that you realize that you shouldn’t be shy about waving your freak flag. Because everyone’s got one.

4 of out five coffees. You go, Jenny Lawson.

Advertisements
 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

So-called minorities tend to have a tense relationship with the scientific/medical field in any society. And yes, this “tense” relationship almost always includes restricted access to good health care. Take a look at the United States right now. It doesn’t really matter where you stand on the debate on nationalized health care, it doesn’t take a dummy to realize that those well endowed with money are less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, bad teeth, cancer, and most other common health problems. But that’s not all I mean when I say tense. There is an ever-present lack of trust between minorities and the health care industry. And this book by Rebecca Skloot tells one story that illustrates why through what happened with one African-American family in the 1950s.

When Henriette Lacks went into the gynecologist’s office at Johns Hopkins in 1951, she knew something was wrong. She should have gone earlier, but when you’re part of a group that has been systematically experimented on by the medical community (look into the Tuskegee Experiment, if you don’t know what I’m talking about), had bodies of your deceased relatives dug up and transported to medical facilities in barrels labeled “Turpentine” for scientific research, or heard stories all your life of people disappearing when they got too close to Johns Hopkins, you don’t really rush to get your yearly physical. By the time Henrietta made it there, the cancerous tumor in her cervix was pretty well established. Her doctors did what they could, gave her the best treatment offered to colored patients at that time, but really they knew there were only putting off the inevitable. She wasn’t going to make it. But of course, they didn’t tell her that until she was nearly dead. They also didn’t tell her that they took a sample of her cervical cells – cancerous and not – for further study. This was pretty routine procedure back then, so nobody thought much of it. In fact, everyone assumed that once her cells were taken to the lab, they would survive for a bit and die out, just like all other cells.

But they didn’t.

LONG after Henrietta Lacks died, her cancerous cervical cells, known has HeLa in the scientific community, were still being used to conduct research on the newest cancer medicine, antibiotics, HIV meds, you name it. In fact, HeLa cells are still being used today. Like, right now. Seriously – go into any lab right now and you will almost certainly find Henrietta’s cells being used in some experiment. And serious scientific breakthroughs are being made, people. Her family would be so proud. Except they had no idea what was going on for a very long time. Yup. Yeah. No one told them.

By the time the found out what was really going on with Henrietta’s cells, her children were well into their 50s, some were in and out of prison, and all of them were suffering from common health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. And not a one had health insurance. Their mother’s cells were solving health problems around the world and were making millions for people in the medical field, but they couldn’t afford a visit to their general physician. And the irony is not lost on them. Add to that a lack of any real scientific knowledge and you wouldn’t have a hard time understanding how much emotional turmoil, anger, and fear the Lacks family feels toward Johns Hopkins and the medical community at large.

This book is really hard to read because it serves as proof of how disposable certain people were considered. Are considered. I don’t know. It also brings to light a very important issue in today’s world: once, say, a tumor is removed from your body, do you have rights to it and any money from medicines scientists develop though experiments with it? If so, what’s to stop people from extorting exorbitant amounts of money from research scientists, making research with cells cost prohibitive? I’d hate to be part of the committee in Congress deciding this pickle.

Four out of Five coffees.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Okay, so, full disclosure: I am not a huge Chelsea Handler fan. So take what I am going to say with a grain of salt.

This book is…embarrassing. Like, I know her brand of humor is less…sophisticated than TFey’s or Demetri Martin or Ricky Gervais. I knew that going in. But that still didn’t prepare me for the first chapter. It was entirely about Handler’s discovery of how to…self complete, if you catch my drift. And apparently once Handler learned how to, ahem, self complete, she spends all her time doing it. Everywhere. Like in the family den when everyone is watching TV. Or while riding a bike. Or at the family table during Thanksgiving dinner. Erk. ERK, guys. I don’t think that’s funny. That’s the kind of stuff you keep to yourself and pray that everyone else involved forgets about. Amiright?

I always knew that Chelsea Handler’s humor centered on the uncomfortable and playing practical jokes on close friends. And I don’t mind that. Her comments are usually the funniest on those VH1 shows. And a few of the stories on the book are great. Like the one where she convinces her boyfriend she killed a friend’s dog and now they have to attend the dog’s funeral. But then there was the one where she spends the whole day eating hot pockets, drinking alcohol and watching the Sex and the City movie. I mean, that’s just sad. Get it together, woman. You are an adult.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Book Reviews, Humor

 

Tags: , , , ,

The Girl With The Crooked Nose by Ted Botha

The Girl With The Crooked NoseI watch a lot of NCIS, where 40 minutes and one amazingly talented forensic scientist are enough to solve even the most horrific of crimes.  Real life, however, takes longer and doesn’t always yield such clear-cut results.

Enter Frank Bender.  He came upon his calling as a forensic artist almost accidentally, when he attended an autopsy in lieu of taking an anatomy course to help with his sculpting.  In the storage room, there was a body of a woman who had not been identified – he was told, “We have no idea what she might have looked like.”  Looking at her skull, however, Bender realized that he did know what she looked like.  And he asked permission to sculpt a bust of her face.

Five months after he completed her bust, the woman was identified as Anna Duval, a missing persons case from Arizona.

With a successful ID came more skulls needing faces.  Bender learned more about forensic reconstruction and streamlined his technique.  He visited the Mütter Museum to study differences in skulls (and later exhibited some of his completed busts there – leading to the identification of yet another victim).  He set up a studio for his unusual hobby.  And when the Mexican government asked the U.S. for help in identifying some of the more than 400 women killed since 1993, Bender was a natural choice for the task at hand.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Guest Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke

Jamie YatesToday we are excited to be joined by our first guest reviewer, fellow bookseller-in-exile Jamie Yates.  Not only does Jamie run his own review blog, Chicago Ex-Patriate, he is also associate editor and contributor to the newly-launched Instafiction.org, which features a new short story each weekday.  Plus, he’s fun to be around.

If you are a bookseller (past or present) or book blogger who would like to contribute a guest review, please contact us!

Le.Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (published April 2011)

by Jamie Yates

In my career as a bookseller, I had a tendency to disdain memoirs. Let me make a distinction—I’m not lumping biographies into this category, but rather clarifying a much needed division between the two. I generally enjoy biographies, even though supposedly “journalistic” accounts are sometimes revisionist histories, but that’s another topic altogether. Memoirs, however, are sometimes unabashedly biased or skewed towards an almost pornographic/voyeuristic look into private lives. Are you a long forgotten 1980s/1990s television co-star with a former co-dependency? Are you a non-famous person who endured unspeakable personal atrocities? If so, then your chances of selling a memoir to a publishing house are probably pretty high. I’m not trying to sound cold or unfeeling towards these sub-genres, but after awhile, there are only so many (likely ghostwritten) accounts that one can handle. The troubling subjects are explored with the stated goal of continuing the healing process, or reaching out to others with the same afflictions. Noble, yes, but after awhile, readers can become desensitized when so many similar titles have been released.

However, in my last days of corporate book selling, I excitedly came across a galley of The Long Goodbye, a memoir by poet/critic Meghan O’Rourke, a former editor with The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourkea current contributor to Slate magazine. My admiration for her writing stems back to 2010. When everyone in the literary community (myself included) was eagerly reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, O’Rourke wrote a stunning essay exploring the role of female authors in the goal of writing “The Great American Novel.” She wondered whether Freedom would have been as highly received had it been written by a woman, and almost immediately after, she was the recipient of several critiques herself, as well as a briefly altered Wikipedia page (“Despite her Yale education and privileged life, she believes she is at a great disadvantage as a writer because she is a not a (yawn) white male”). These attacks were utterly unfounded, and that single example of her writing hooked me. Her arguments were precise, but not attacking; rather, the overall atmosphere was that of someone seeking an honest, open discussion about an aspect of the literary community that needed to be out in the open. Plus, while I’m still a huge fan of Mr. Franzen, I agreed with her statements, and was bewildered that people would take her words as personal attacks. I made immediate mental notes to read more of her bibliography. While my hope was to catch up on her poetry, I found myself beginning to read more of her work with The Long Goodbye, an account of her mother’s cancer and imminent death, and their many personal implications.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Salt: A World HistoryReading this book cemented two things in my mind:

1) The public school system failed me when it comes to geography,

and

2) The French steal.

Wait. Hold on. It’s not fair to make blanket statements like that. I guess I failed myself with respect to geography. There, I feel better.

I expected to learn interesting facts about the history of salt from this book and that is exactly what I got. But it was a little heavy-handed. I mean, I was with Kurlansky when he talked about how salt has historically been an important commodity because of how much revenue it could produce when taxed. Think about it: is there really any meal that you eat that doesn’t contain salt? Do you have a salt shaker sitting on some surface in your home in relative proximity to eatables? You betcha! So when ancient Chinese emperors decided to tax salt as a way to finance their army, they were on to something. And when various rebellions and coups caused emperors to come to power who didn’t tax salt, it took them very few years to realize that taxing salt = force needed to stay in power. So salt = power. Follow Kurlansky? I did!

Read the rest of this entry »

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Book Reviews, History / Politics

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

33 Men by Jonathan Franklin

33 MenNormally, I’m not one for books about terrible tragedies or stories that have been unremittingly covered by the press.  At the end of a news cycle, most stories have been dissected to death, and I feel little need to learn what tiny details did not make it into the reports.  The saga of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine was dramatic and drawn out, a sure recipe for desensitization via media, and yet – I am still utterly fascinated by it.

While reading the coverage of the rescue attempt, my mind kept going back to the 17 days these men spent at the bottom of a mine before the first drill broke through.  I get claustrophobic just thinking about it.  It’s so hard to imagine being trapped down there, with no way to communicate and the bare minimum of resources.  The fact that they were able to ration their food so carefully and keep some semblance of order is astounding.  But what were those first days like, down there in the darkest depths of a dangerous mine?

Franklin’s book sheds some light on these previously unpublished details, following the incident from the cave-in through the impressive rescue 69 days later.  An American journalist living in Chile for the past two decades, Franklin was granted a Rescue Pass, giving him unprecedented access to the rescue operation and, eventually, the miners themselves.  His account follows the action above and below the ground as both sides struggled to prevent a tragic outcome.  The book is a testament to the strong survival instinct and solidarity displayed under the greatest pressure, as well as the technical capabilities and dedication of rescuers who arrived from across the globe.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,