Leading up to the New Year, in all of my ambition and bookish desire, I dove into my newly acquired Library treasures. I made sure to at least attempt to be diverse in my choices; not just to include books that spoke about social or otherwise important issues, but also to keep up my interest. I knew if I picked too many classics, for example, I would quickly get bored and revert back to my previous habit of mindless IPad clicking and YouTube video watching.
My first selection was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, By Rebecca Skloot.
First off, I just want to say that I love non-fiction. As much as stories and fantastical worlds, and even the everyday stories of people draw me in; I am always attracted to a good work of non-fiction. The research that any particular subject involves and the passion for specificity and education the author brings to the table always ignites my own insatiable thirst for knowledge.
And knowledge of nearly any kind, really. I love to skip around from subject to subject; from historical research (especially if it includes lots of really juicy trivia) to human interest stories….and from the very broad to the insanely detailed. Mary Roach is a great writer for deep research and tireless detail. I love her work and have read most of her books, in all of their passionate and humorous glory.
OK, but this isn’t about Mary Roach. I’m sure I’ll get there again before the year’s out (I hope–as I said, she’s a pleasure to read).
Rebecca Skloot also kept me mesmerized. She has a lovely way of combining real and obviously hard-earned research with a very human and personable touch. Her respectful and patient treatment of Mrs. Lacks’ family and her dedication to their cause was inspiring and touching. She also managed to be very technical and educational without being preachy or too academic.
The book follows Ms. Skloot’s mission to uncover and tell the whole story of an amazing and remarkable woman. Henrietta Lacks was a cancer patient at Johns Hopkins, whose cervical cancer cells were taken (without permission, as was the custom at the time) and isolated for study. Her cells did not behave as predicted, and instead of dying, lived on and divided; always replicating. This led to countless leaps in medical research over the years–as well as controversy and quite a bit of heartbreak for her family, who was never included or acknowledged. The book takes us through the author’s mission to promote understanding of the importance of Mrs. Lacks’ cells to medical science, while also working hard to bring the family’s struggle and unique story to light. It was important to her that she emphasize to the world that this was a real woman…a genuine, living, breathing human being who was loved and missed–deserving to be remembered for everything she was, and not simply for the incredible HeLa cells she left behind.
I loved it. This book was everything I long for in non-fiction, and it reinforced my enthusiasm for learning. In my humble opinion, for any book to be great, it has to draw me in, allow me to become lost in its world, and leave me wanting more. I’m always so happy when a non-fiction book can do this for me. I think people tend to see non-fiction as a bit dry and boring–something given as an assignment or required for work, and it’s very pleasing to be able to argue the opposite.