This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them by Amy Dickinson, 2009, * * *

I am one of Amy Dickinson;s biggest fans – having become familiar with her from reading her nationally syndicated advice column "Ask Amy" and from hearing her wit and wisdom as a featured guest on NPR's weekly news quiz “Wait.Wait…Don’t Tell Me.” Her motto is "I make the mistakes so you don't have to" and in The Mighty Queens of Freeville Amy Dickinson shares those mistakes and her remarkable story. Dickinson traces her own personal history, as well as the history of her mother's family whose members make up the 'Mighty Queens' of Freeville, N.Y., the small town where Dickinson was raised, and where she raised her own daughter, following stints in New York, London, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. After she found herself a reluctant single parent,  her mother, aunts and sisters helped her to pick up the pieces when her life fell apart,  and to reassemble them into something new. It is a story of frequent failures and surprising successes, as Amy starts and loses careers, bumbles through blind dates, teaches Sunday school, and moves across the country with her daughter and their giant tabby cat. A tale of promise postponed and scrappy survival, Amy Dickinson's glorious triumphs are like rabbits pulled out of a hat, one after another after another. Full of hope and humor and big simple truths, it is a story told with grace and without a trace of cynicism. This is a book you will love and one you will be truly sad to finish. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by R.Skloot, 2010, * * * * *

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the tale of a 31-year old black mother of five in Baltimore, who died of cervical cancer in 1951.  Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue sample from her cervix to research and they spawned the first viable, indeed immortal, cell lines ever grown in a laboratory. These cell lines have since spawned a multibillion dollar industry - yet her descendents have received no financial compensation and cannot even afford health care. Until Rebecca Skloot, a science reporter,  began her 10-year quest to learn about the woman whose cell line had saved millions of lives, the woman behind the HeLa cells was virtually unknown.  HeLa cells (named for the first two initials of Henrietta Lacks's first and last names)  have been responsible for unlocking the secrets of cancer and various viruses and have been essential to the development of in vitro fertilization, the polio vaccine, cloning and gene mapping.   The interactions between Skloot, a white woman, and the initially wary Lacks family contribute to this fascinating story and what emerges is a sweeping account of race, gender, ethics, class, economics, science and medical treatment and how they intersect in an unequal health care system.  In her summary Ms. Skloot discusses Myriad Genetics, a company that holds patents on several genes, including two genetic markers for breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2.  In a wide reaching ruling by a federal judge delivered on March 29, 2010, those patents were struck down in an argument stating that genes are products of nature and thus occur naturally. This book could not be more relevant.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Life in the Balance: A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia by Thomas Graboys, 2008, * * * *

At the top of his professional game at 49, as a renowned Boston cardiologist on both the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the staff of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Thomas Graboys began having unusual physical and mental symptoms. As he was at a personal nadir, following the death of his wife, he at first ignored the signs.  However, despite his best efforts to control the situation, first through denial, then by reducing his private-practice patient load, the symptoms doggedly progressed. In the meantime, he remarried. When he passed out on his wedding day, he knew his problems were more serious than he wanted to admit. Before long, he was diagnosed with the double whammy of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, an associated degenerative disease. In this stirring and chilling memoir, he takes an unblinking look at himself as his mind and body suffer unrelenting hits from those progressive illnesses. This is an unflinching memoir of a devastating illness as only a consummate physician could write it including reflections by Graboys’ daughters, sons-in-law, and other members of the families blended by his marriage. In his joint roles as physician and patient, Dr. Graboys finds a way to convey hope, optimism and an appreciation of what it means to be truly alive. A remarkable book.