Quarterly Book Review 1.3.1

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to Amy Goodloe, my very first guest blogger! My lack of blogging is getting me down, and I’m exceedingly grateful that Amy has stepped in to write my quarterly book review for the summer of 2011. 

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald is fabulous. He told a wonderful story in its simplest form. He managed to surprise me and enthrall me in only 150 pages. His gift of storytelling, from my perspective, comes from his great ability to share tone. He captured both the highs and the lows in the story while still having vibrant characters. Fitzgerald doesn’t dilute his strength with unnecessary complexity. He came with a story to tell and he told it. It’s almost an account rather than a story; refreshing.

Fitzgerald lets the simplicity of the story shock us and lull us into a false sense of security. At the same time he brings up complex issues of happiness, class, marriage, vice, morality and responsibility; all without passing judgment. He paints a situation in which the reader is forced to take a side and evaluate right and wrong. It allows you to question your moral compass and see how far circumstance will take you.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
This is a book of three intertwining stories surrounding a woman named Henrietta Lacks.  The first story is of a black woman named Henrietta who dies from cervical cancer in the 1950s.  The second story is that of HeLa cells that have been used in thousands of scientific breakthroughs, HeLa cells were unknowingly harvested from Henrietta Lacks.  The third story is that of Henrietta’s family and their tumultuous relationship with Henrietta, HeLa, and the scientific community.

Rebecca Skloot writes this story as an investigation into the world of scientific discovery and all the issues that go along with it: both constructive and destructive.  The story has a million foils for itself.  We can compare the kind, social Henrietta to the cold, calculating scientific community who look at cells rather than people; we can go further to compare that to the Lacks family and their misunderstanding of the HeLa cells, their impact and relation to their mother.

I couldn’t put this book down. It is an amazing combination about history, racism, family and science. It seemed well-balanced and didn’t place the blame anywhere. I just told the story of a woman who died of cancer, her family and those cancer cells that went on to save the world. I found myself imagining I was right alongside the Lacks family in Clover, VA on the tobacco plantation and in the lab with Dr. Gey.

Kindred, by Octavia ButlerKindred
Octavia Butler
My favorite part about Octavia Butler’s brand of science fiction (if you can call it that) is that there are no robots, no lasers, no aliens.  She takes a normal story and tweaks it a little bit so that it is just strange enough to qualify as science fiction.  This time around it was time travel.

Kindred is the story of a black woman, Dana, and her white husband in the 1970s who are periodically transported back to slaveholding Maryland.  Dana is transported to Maryland when a distant (white) relative of hers is about to die and she must save his life or she will not exist in the present.  However, she must stay in Maryland until her life is threatened and at the point she is about to die she is whisked back to California having only been away a fraction of the time.

Butler does a phenomenal job of considering institutionalized racism and slavery.  While it may seem like very abstract and historical topics to consider today, Butler finds a way to make the issues contemporary and very much alive.  Her characters find themselves in situations which force you to reflect on how much context can play a role in morality.

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