By creating a world with both excessively good characters and excessively evil characters, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about the horrors of slavery...moreBy creating a world with both excessively good characters and excessively evil characters, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about the horrors of slavery is certainly melodramatic.
Yet, given her intended audience and the era in which she was writing, she could not have had the impact she had in Uncle Tom’s Cabin without the melodrama. Although Ms Stowe wrote a rather didactic novel about the evils of slavery and the true meaning of “Christian”, the stereotyped characters became beloved friends to the reader, and the continued action kept the reader engaged. There was nothing remarkable about the writing – and I personally tired quickly of the novel’s style.
Nevertheless, it is clear Ms Stowe created a masterful classic of historical importance by her techniques in writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin (first published 1852). Reading the novel helps one better understand the difficulties of slavery in the years immediately preceding the Civil War, particularly because the arguments against slavery Ms Stowe makes are so emotional and realistic.
Henrietta Lacks died at age 31, her body racked with cancerous tumors growing out of control. She was a poor black woman in the public ward of Johns H...moreHenrietta Lacks died at age 31, her body racked with cancerous tumors growing out of control. She was a poor black woman in the public ward of Johns Hopkins hospital in 1951, a person who hid her intense pain from her family and friends as long as she could. Her story is one that could have been forgotten, if not for the fact that the cells taken from her cancerous tumors transformed science, research, and medicine.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a complex book. At times it is a biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, from the early years of the century until today. At times it is a science volume, explaining the ways in which HeLa cells have contributed to cancer research, immunization research, and so forth. At times it is a memoir of one persistent researcher looking for answers. In all aspects, it’s a look at the history of race relations in America, especially in terms of medical care and privacy. I found it so fascinating, I did not want to stop reading, in my curiosity of what could possibly happen next.
The Immortal Life opens up plenty of issues for discussion: how would you feel about your cells being kept alive? What if it would further science? How would you feel about your deceased mother’s medical history then being shared with the medical community and the world without your permission? How would this story be different if Henrietta Lacks was not a poor black woman? How would her legacy be different if she were not who she was? What right did Rebecca Skloot have to open up her family’s past to a biography of this magnitude? What do you think of the ethical, moral, and cultural implications of Henrietta’s story?
Now that I have finished, I have yet more questions. I look forward to having a book club discussion about this some day. There so much in there to ponder, even including the presence of the narrator, Ms Rebecca Skloot. Wasn’t her actions just as morally and ethically questionable as the medical professionals? She pester the Lacks’ family in order to get them to tell her their story. It seems pretty clear that they did not want to talk to her, and only her persistence over years made it possible for her to write the story. Never the less, Henrietta Lacks is one of those well written nonfiction books that leaves me wanting more. Well done and highly recommended!
Adventure is not my genre. Romantic-style literature is not my favorite. So this book, in general, was not a favorite. There is much to discover under...moreAdventure is not my genre. Romantic-style literature is not my favorite. So this book, in general, was not a favorite. There is much to discover under the surface, however, and I’m glad I read it, and discussed it with my group.
Because of the era in which it was written and the era in which the story takes place, The Last of the Mohicans seems to me to be a complicated but racist work. It also is a dramatically unrealistic adventure between members of a dying race and the interlopers who would eventually eliminate the frontier as depicted in this novel. Further, a stereotype I have of romantic-era literature is the flowery language. James Fenimore Cooper well meets that stereotype, and his dramatic battle scenes full of philosophic discussions and fainting maidens require the reader to suspend disbelief frequently.
All Kinds of Kisses by Nancy Tafuri (Little, Brown and Company 2011) is a sweet and simple farm animal bedtime book emphasizing the fact that “Little...moreAll Kinds of Kisses by Nancy Tafuri (Little, Brown and Company 2011) is a sweet and simple farm animal bedtime book emphasizing the fact that “Little ones love kisses.” Each two-page spread tells the kinds of kisses the little animal loves, and it ends, of course, with the little child being kissed goodnight as well. There are very few words on each page, and the gentle colored pencil illustrations perfectly match the simple message of the book and the lullaby-like tone of the words. Oversized pages draw the young lap-sitting reader in to the love-filled farm. (less)
As most people know, as a young man, Henry David Thoreau left his comfortable home in the village of Concord to live in the woods near Walden Pond. Wa...moreAs most people know, as a young man, Henry David Thoreau left his comfortable home in the village of Concord to live in the woods near Walden Pond. Walden, his collection of his thoughts about his years living a life of simplicity which he called “self-reliance,” has been called one of the greatest books in American literature. Apparently, while Emerson began the concept of finding truth within one’s self, Thoreau was one who put it in to practice in a real way by living the life. He is essential to the transcendentalist movement.
In my case, very little of Walden inspired me. I personally found Thoreau unbearably egotistical and opinionated. There were a few gems here and there, and I did enjoy the beautiful style in which he described the nature around him (to some extent). He certainly was a talented writer and a well-educated man. But I felt there were a few essential issues about his “self-reliance” that left me annoyed, rather than inspired.
Reading Walden was not a complete waste for me, but I certainly don’t intend to read it again. On Goodreads, it seems a number of readers love this book and reread it frequently. Others are in my camp: bored, annoyed, and otherwise wondering why on earth this is considered an American classic to adore.
Baby Cather by Peggy Vincent (published 2004) is a memoir of a Certified Nurse Midwife who spent many years delivering babies in hospitals and at wome...moreBaby Cather by Peggy Vincent (published 2004) is a memoir of a Certified Nurse Midwife who spent many years delivering babies in hospitals and at women’s homes as a private practitioner. With frankness about her ignorance of the process of delivery in the beginning, personal stories from her own three pregnancies, and numerous stories about home births gone right and a few gone wrong, I loved it.
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt, 2009) is not a typical, full-life biography because it focuses on speci...moreCharles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt, 2009) is not a typical, full-life biography because it focuses on specific aspects of the Darwins’ married life, of course in the context of Charles Darwin’s scientific studies. As a former religious studies student, the author Deborarh Heiligman married a scientist. When she discovered that scientist Charles Darwin likewise married a religious woman, she was intrigued to know how Emma reconciled her faith with science, thus beginning her study to understand the Darwins’ relationship.
I loved how Ms Heiligman brought the relationship alive. After reading the book, I feel somewhat close to Charles and Emma, because their personalities were so carefully developed. Further, Charles’ struggle to have faith and Emma’s struggle to come to terms with Charles’ scientific understandings were so poignant to me. Given the strict literal religious understandings of the era and the novelty of Charles’ scientific findings, I could really relate to the couple’s struggle.
Further, I loved the emotion with which Ms Heiligman discussed Charles’ developing scientific understanding in the context of his own family. My favorite part of the book was the discussion about his daughter who passed away at a young age. I found myself in tears as I considered this small family’s pain at their loss, especially given the family’s struggles to accept religion. Further, Annie’s death brought the implications of Charles’ scientific theories (especially the concept of “survival of the fittest”) into context.
Emma’s struggle with acceptance of Charles’ lack of faith was likewise emotional to read about. She frequently sent him inspiration-filled letters asking him to accept God, and she worried throughout their life that he would go to “hell” because of his lack of faith. Although Charles found he ultimately could not accept God (as an agnostic, he believed there was no way to know one way or another), he still treasured Emma’s faithful encouragement. I loved the tenderness with which the two corresponded throughout life about both science and religion.
As I mentioned, Charles and Emma does not feel like a complete picture of the scientist Charles Darwin. Nevertheless, it does provide a context for Charles Darwin’s life and scientific findings, and the author brings the reader in the Darwin’s family life and their personal struggles between science and religion with sensitivity and understanding.
As a religious person with a faith in God, I personally do not struggle as I embrace scientific fact as well as religious faith, but I can understand how one might. Charles and Emma’s story does not answer any questions but it does paint a clear picture of how such questions have always arisen for the faithful. I found it marvelously executed.(less)