Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What I've been reading

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

"Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells - taken without her knowledge - became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences."
This is a pretty good book on what could have been a very dry subject. It's a complex problem: for sixty years the cells that belonged to Henrietta Lacks have helped pharmaceutical and research companies make effective drugs, and their employees and shareholders have profited, while her family are still reliant on public hospitals. But the law says that we no longer own our cells once they are separated from our bodies, and I tend to agree.

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by Sebastian Faulks

narrated by Peter Firth
"Set before and during the great war, Birdsong is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself."
I'm not sure where this lies on my quality scale for reading - is it a good book or not? It is another one that is divided into several strands separated by time, and perhaps it is this aspect that I don't much like, like the structure of the Maggie O'Farrell book that I read recently. But the writing quality is good, and life in the trenches during the first World War is vividly captured, so on the whole I'm going to conclude that yes, it is a good book.

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by Bruce Starling

"As the Great Fog of 1952 descends on London, MI5 outcast Herbert Smith stumbles upon a secret that will change the world - if he can stay alive long enough to tell it. A drunk, perhaps, wandering unsighted through Hyde Park and stumbling into the icy shallows of Long Water. But Max Stensness was stone-cold sober when he died. And in the hours before his death, the young biochemist had claimed to be in possession of a secret that could change the world."
I read this over the weekend that Lola II and I were camping, in the odd moments between activity. Very easy to read, and mostly quite gripping, it purports to be reported fact, and includes details of the period that sometimes seem a little forced - the trial of Derek Bentley doesn't have any bearing on the main plot, and mentioning it doesn't help the rhythm of the story. I'd certainly be prepared to try other books by this author, though.

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