You can thank Henrietta Lacks:
If you know your blood type
If you have had a measles or mumps vaccine, and you had better, by golly, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If you used a beaker or glass slide during a science experiment at any point in your education or professional career, whether as a researcher, scientist or Etsy artsy recycler, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If you have ever seen a photograph of a chromosome, and I know you have, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If the term "Iron Lung" conjures fear or if you don’t have polio, or survived it, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If you know someone who has had undergone invitro fertilization or gene therapy, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If you know about Herceptin, a cancer treatment drug, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If you are familiar with HPV, Human papillomavirus, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
If you enjoy the NPR show/podcast Science Friday hosted by Ira Flato, you can thank Henrietta Lacks
Hands down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of the most important contemporary books of the early 2000s.
If you have not yet read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, as Chapter Endnotes did in December 2010, then stop reading this and get your hands on that book. I suggest your local library or bookstore.
If you have read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, then you'll be pleased to know that HBO will broadcast the film adaptation on April 22.
I scoff at using the second person "you" in my recommendation of Rebecca Skloot's book. That's how strongly I feel about the importance of reading and discussing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot delves into issues of ethics, race, family, science, history and journalism. The old saying, "no good deed goes unpunished," certainly applies to Skloot, as members of the Lacks family are divided on the her portrayal of Henrietta and the income and fame derived from the book's publication. The author's first class journalistic diligence is evident throughout the book. However the family settles the issue is their matter. For us, the world's recipients and benefactors of the immortal "HeLa" cells medicinal, virological, scientific, biological and ethical bounty, I give thanks.
Check out my latest Chapter Endnotes NPR 89.9-FM WJCT Book Club discussion with Melissa Ross .
If I am indifferent to time, our book discussions about The Stranger may focus solely on the first sentence of this important post-Second World War narrative. This may or may not happen.
A la Gilbert: My discussions about The Stranger by Albert Camus may start today with negative commentary. Or not. C'est la vie.
A la Ward: Today, my discussions about Albert Camus' The Stranger, will probably begin with complaints. Or not. Who knows, really.
This week, I have had many conversations about The Stranger. The storms in Jacksonville, Florida, had just subsided as I left my Ponte Vedra Beach discussion. The sun's warmth and ocean breeze had felt refreshing after an entire night and morning of pounding rains and thunder. I drove west, rather hungry.
Looking forward, or not, to continuing the discussion,
Is it okay to write a story based on a work of Shakespeare?
This question has surfaced frequently during my discussions of Ian McEwan's Nutshell. Readers begin the the novella either ready to see or are in the dark about the loose fitting Hamlet-ish story line. If the reader is aware of the plot resemblance, then chuckles erupt about Danish take-out. The main murderous-plotting characters, Trudy and Claude, get knowing nods to Queen Gertrude and King Claudius.
However, it is not necessary to know anything about Shakespeare or Denmark to be wittingly knotted up in Nutshell. Readers are in the hands of a master storyteller. Ian McEwan brilliantly employs an in utero narrator. And this is not the first time in literature that a fetus has told a tale.
To tell a tale already told, or not to tell.
Literary theories abound. No story is original. Three basic plots exists. Stories are structured in seven different ways . Some philosophers will argue that no story exists. Yes, next month we are reading Camus' The Stranger.
Hamlet is argued to be the most influential of all Shakespearean plays. In and endless list of interviews, McEwan discusses his use of the play in Nutshell.
Years ago, Elaine Konigsburg was speaking about writing. She explained that in order to break the rules of grammar, one has to possess a command and understanding of the usage. This same principle applies in this superb novella.
McEwan can do whatever he wants with Hamlet. Nutshell is a small book with huge themes. From the first sentence, an improbable premise breaks all the rules of rationality. Poking, priapic prose reveal that the author was having fun with this baby.
Thus, Nutshell is sublime.
By request: Shakespeare Live, To Be or Not To Be performance by Paapa Essiedu, Tim Minchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and HRH the Prince of Wales. Royal Shakespeare Company.
Lastly, mark your calendars for a special book lovers event on April 29 in Jacksonville, Florida. Listen to the program on Tuesday morning or on the First Coast Connect App on iTunes for announcement and details to get involved.
For the past three and a half years, I have explored the writing's therapeutic capacity, working with second generation Holocaust survivors. The "second gen" are children of Holocaust survivors.
Meeting monthly in a workshop setting, these individuals, who were silent about there singular experiences, began writing and discussing. As a former journalist, I knew that the written essays needed a public venue and had historical and academic worth. The second gens' experiences vary exponentially. However, when we began this writing journey, it became apparent that they did share one characteristic. Searching.
Thus, I began the Searching for Identity Project.
By employing words, connecting generations through the creative arts and academic institutions, the SFI Project preserves, captures and acknowledges the second gen's "search for identity," ensuring that their legacy will be understood, inherited and embraced, for no one to deny.
The Searching for Identity Project continues to evolve. Last May, the exhibit was shown at Florida Mining Gallery. Recently, SFI, Through the Lens of the Second Gen was shown at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens as part of the Anne Frank: An Exhibit for Today. Tonight the traveling exhibit will open at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church Narthex Gallery.
Years ago, HAB suffered a ravaging fire, on Christmas Eve. This church, built on love and community outreach, was rebuilt on those principles. Considering learning more about the second gen, ultimately an American immigrant and refugee story. Join me in a reconstructed sacred space and participate in the opening of an exhibit that explores restarting from devastation and reflecting with resilience.
I invite you to attend tonight's opening,
Only in the apt prose of Ian McEwan, can the reader suspend believability and trust a blind, opining, BBC-addicted, millennial-phobic, wine connoisseur narrator who is a fetus.
'Nuff said, in, ahem, a nutshell.
Much regret for not posting the results of our slate sooner. I parked my car underneath a tree. With berries. Hence, I now know why my vehicle is called BMW.
Perhaps this avian-bois-toilette attribution can boost the number of gender identities to 72. Our narrator would approve. Due to the doo-doo that now gives new meaning to Lady McBeth's, "Out, damned spot[s]!" I have only just finished washing my car and can finally post our election results. It was a nail biter.
- April: The Stranger by Albert Camus-numerous translations exist. Doesn't matter which one you choose. Couldn't help it.
- May: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
- Summer Selection: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Hamlet states that "Brevity is the soul of wit," thus I bid adieu asking you to shop local for your biblio-selections.
The breathable comma? Read this post again, omit the commas. Feh! Horrible!
Our discussions give me joy.
In February 2014, we read the Henrik Ibsen play An Enemy of the People, popularized in the United States by the Arthur Miller adaptation. Social media has parlayed the phrase and the resulting verbal conflagration is, in no way, lost on moi.
If you have not yet read the Ibsen translation or the Miller adaptation, I urge you to read this play. You can do it tonight. It's short.
An Enemy of the People, like many dystopian tales, mentioned lately, including those of Bradbury, Vonnegut, Atwood and Orwell offer great insight to the fumbling and crumbling political tableau that we are witnessing in real time. Merci, madame media.
Arturo Perez-Reverte, our February novelist, nailed it flintily. He said that we have forgotten the lessons that education and culture provides. Socrates who?
Read the Ibsen and answer this question:
How do you see literature as an aid to understand the present?
Consider this your homework.
Last night I wrapped up my discussions of Arturo Perez Reverte's We We Become with my new book club at San Marco Books and More in Jacksonville, Florida. It was our second meeting, all strangers brought together through the conduit of our passion for books.
Delving into a book that you otherwise would have never read on your own, learning about the author, the history, sharing opposing views and relishing "a-ha" moments, this is the stuff that makes book clubs great.
What We Become posited many themes, including trust, class, politics and love. It offered intrigue, tough sexual encounters and the experience of being transported to Nice during the late 30's and Sorrento during the Cold War.
Chess, the tango, deception and trios enriched the storyline. The book is brimming with characters, plots, pearls, trains and, yeesh, such smoking and ashes everywhere. Apparently from the 1930s to the 1950s, everyone is a chimney.
Translated works present quandaries and What We Become stands as a good example, originally published in Spanish. Did we truly read his words? Was something lost?
Penultimately We We Become is about accepting the landscape of one's life with serenity.
Books also offer reflection on and escape from our tumultuous times. Reading and discussing books acts as an elixir, broadening our understanding of another's sensibility, opinion and thought process. Reverte finds great solace in books as he has seen a brutal world, spending over 20 years as a war correspondent. Thus, he would practically give books sainthood status, and of course, I am all for that.
In a nutshell, reading connects, literacy is key to understanding others, ourselves, civilizations of now and the past and what we may become. Reverte states, albeit badly translated, in a 2012 interview:
Looking forward to more books, more learning, more understanding,
Last month I used the conduit of a Russian chess board to illustrate the story of Tolstoy's Hadji Murat. This month, I believed that What We Become/Tango del la guardia vieja by Arturo Perez-Reverte would offer a wonderful respite from our tumultuous times. The book opens with post-Gatsbyesque style, a handsome couple departing on a luxury liner bound for Buenos Aires: tangos, tortoise shell cigarette cases, strands of pearls, sultry innuendo, mystery and suspense ensue.
Next thing I know, the chess pieces are flyin' with variants, compositions, strategies and plots. Soviet chess titan vs capitalist silver spoon boy of dubious ancestry.
More chess! How serendipitous.
However, things get a little too "serendippy" cozy to cable TV of today. Russians, facists, communists, KGB, Franco loyalists and other dark forces are on the scene. A Russian-linked spy laments to our protagonist, Max Costa:
While looking to escape into a fictional world, our book bares open omens of historical warning.
Where's my suave tango partner? I want another Penrod! More cigarettes, please! Waiter, check!
Looking forward to your thoughts.
And, oh, it feels good.
No better way to open the New Year then starting at the top. This month, our discussions will focus on Hadji Murat, Tolstoy didn't even care if the work was ever published. This tale, a fictionalized version of the Chechnyan rebel fighter Hadji Murat is Tolstoy spun-refined. No sermonizing. No depressing bitter cold. No risking familial expectations for personal romantic gain. No trains.
He lays bare the folly of men at war.
Biblio-nexu again permeates our title selection. Tolstoy's narrative paints with great clarity and economy the debauchery of 1850s' Russian military oppression in the Caucasus.
Sounds ever so familiar.
The wise Maryna observes that warriors are nothing more than butchers.
This month, I'll celebrate ten years of facilitating book clubs.
After an accumulation of varied career experiences ranging from cleaning lady to university lecturer, I’ve fashioned my own profession as a book discussion facilitator.
The title is new. My philosophy about books is a dead old one. When I started facilitating book groups for a living, my mantra was, "I like all my authors very dead." People were uncomfortable with this morose statement but the reasoning was practical. I was asking my members to commit hours of their own time to reading and discussion thus I better be sure that the title is top notch. Quality reading allows the reader to see literary connections to our larger word, Hence I coined "biblio-nexu" that means exactly that. Works as a noun, a verb, an adjective. You know it when you see it, feel it or it happens.
Humbled I am by my book group members, who every month, return to the table to seriously discuss literature. They know that recommending title suggestions is encouraged. And my email inbox reflects their enthusiasm with a steady stream of book candidates, articles, links to author interviews, websites, etc. From publishers, I receive reading guides, sneak peeks, more lists and more new book titles to consider.
For a while, I tried to get out of my staid thinking. I tried to get behind contemporary lit recommendations. I tried to remain ever so calm and not verbally project a cacophony of f-bomb enriched rage whenever I saw yet another book title containing the word “girl.” Perhaps living authors have something to offer? An atta boy to Attenberg is completely appropriate. I bow in reverence to Barnes. I love Franzen and wish him a long healthy life.
However, as I approach a decadal anniversary, I feel, ahem, entitled, to loose the alive author altruism. This doesn't mean I am not open to aerobic authors. However, I am empowered to know my “dead is good” philosophy has panned out to be true. Good books, like classic fashion, never go out of style. Some titles can be hot, for a while, like a corset, but then better quality prevails. Your old Steinbecks always fit comfortably well.
As I raise my library card to toast ten years, I am re-embracing my authors of past. If the caliber of a title can remain endeared after the scribe is dearly departed, then I'll consider it worth my readers’ precious time.
About my contemporary pfft lit attitude, a friend recently said, "You go, girl."
CAMDEN COUNTY ZONING MEETING
6 PM, TONIGHT, DEC. 6
107 GROSS AVE. KINGSLAND, GA
SUBJECT: REQUEST OF VARIANCE TO NOT REQUIRE A PAVED ROAD FOR INHOLDERS' 10 LOT PROPOSED SUBDIVISION ON CUMBERLAND ISLAND
Historic American Buildings Survey Philip E. Gardner, Photographer April 1958 COPY OF ARCHITECT'S WATER COLOR OF SOUTHWEST ELEVATION c. 1880 Dungeness, Cumberland Island, Saint Mary's, Camden County, GA Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print
We each bring our own baggage to every book.
This biblio-mantra is packed and ready to go this week for our discussion of Charles Seabrook's Cumberland Island, Strong Women, Wild Horses. The non-fiction narrative ferries readers to a small island just north of Jacksonville. Although a tiny piece of our nation's eastern seashore, Cumberland Island's history as explained by Seabrook stands as a metaphor for the larger environmental conundrum of finding a harmonious balance with man and nature. Spoiler alert: rarely does this alchemy ever succeed.
In Strong Women, We shall hobnob with the Carnegies and glance over the Tumucuan. We shall stroll Live Oak-lined natural trails and shoot, sometimes kill, intruders. Lindbergh, Lee, Hamilton and Burr, Kennedys, Kingsley and Coca-Cola all cross roads on this 18-square mile swath, barrier island, playground of the rich, resting place of the indigenous dead.
The book details the mourning of mansions and equine mauling of native Spartina alterniflora. Alcoholism, cronyism, slavery, electric cars and environmentalism fuel the island's history. Riding loggerheads, planting invasive Tung, dreaming in titanium and Sea Island lux leisure fill the pages as Seabrook unpacks and exhibits the dilemmas of preservation, conservation, inheritance and rights of some selected humans and horsey habitation.
Perhaps you've visited this National Park. Maybe you've overnighted at the Greyfield Inn or own jewelry fashioned from raccoon vertebrae. Do you enjoy Dr. Pepper or drive a Prius, detest tree huggers, love Hilton Head, sleep on cotton sheets or have heard of Standard Oil? If so, than you, too, are connected to the conundrum of Cumberland.
Grab your biblio-backpack, Vuitton valise, rough-rider rucksack, book bag or just bring your brain, whatever your baggage, I look forward to discussing Cumberland Island, Strong Women, Wild Horses in the weeks ahead.
Any bibliophile will tell you that diving into the pages of a good book offers escape. Over the years I have offered an endless list of wonderful titles that guarantee transportation to another time and place.
Then Julian Barnes throws a wet blanket on everything.
Of course he does.
And this is just yet another reason to love Barnes. He delivers beautifully raw truths with economy.
Feeling hopeless that no respectable vice offers solace and now you are faced with Neflixing your brain into brilliant culinary consistency a la Beach Road Chicken creamed peas? Not so fast, partner. Barnes calls you to action:
Not happy with your sweet land of liberty? Then stop with the entropic kvetching and change your Sense of an Ending.
January will mark the 10th Anniversary of Chapter Endnotes. Whether you have just joined this literary journey, have been listening to Chapter Endnotes conversations on NPR WJCT-FM 89.9 First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, have read the Jacksonville Public Library Blog or have been enjoying Chapter Endnotes book discussions long before the era of e-readers, no matter.
Always grateful for new beginnings, 2017 brings a bibliopportunity to our community of devoted readers. Understanding that at present our book groups are all at capacity, in January a new chapter of monthly evening book discussions will begin at the quintessential book shop San Marco Books and More.
I invite you, your book club and your reader friends to join here.
Our first discussion will be a favorite, Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. During these tumultuous political times, one can always retreat to a nice cozy murder mystery.
Late last night, I was giving my brain some needed recess, watching a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show. You know the one where Miss Ellie runs for city council? Lord have mercy, how the men of Mayberry went berzerk...
Miss Ellie's "silly" female candidacy made me think about my recent discussions of Persepolis that illustrated the loss of women's rights during the Iranian Revolution. The women of Mayberry contrasted with the women of Tehran. An interesting comparison.
This morning, I listened to a group of friends talk about their desire to see Jacksonville, Florida, from where I write this epistle, evolve into a place where women can gain leadership equality in the areanas of business, government, health, etc. What a nice idea in 2016. One that evokes Miss Ellie stumping on the courthouse steps.
Rewind to a month prior, before the election rejection of Hillary Clinton.
Same friends. Same topic. One individual states that they described themselves as an "at-risk" Jacksonville resident. I'm a word lover, thus, I needed to understand this adjective. Explained, the "at-risk" Jacksonville resident is one who hails from a place, just imagine this, a place where all individuals are treated equally, church and state feel comfortably confident in remaining separate and the creative, entrepreneurial and innovative oeuvre are encouraged. Presently renting, the individual didn't know if Jacksonville would be a good fit to establish a life and business that is global, thriving and fabulously lucrative because their rosy description of a positive environment is certainly not the familiar cozy Cowford I know.
"At-risk" resident was added to my creative coinage lexicon. It truly described the apprehension of many successful, intelligent people I knew who felt that Jacksonville basically suffered from a chronic case of cultural cooties.
Just when you think a new word takes on meaning, the whole context changes.
Fast forward to this morning, I overheard someone comment that they were suffering from Trumpression. Trumpression? I am sharing this lovely gem of a word, with permission of the trumpressed individual, because it explains accurately the ambient malaise that has descended upon our country. This polluted cloud of toxic, debilitating depression, embarrassment and shame, a result of our recent electoral implosion.
A month ago, "at-risk" became a new vocabulary word to described our city's stifling environment. Now, with election trumpression, a deeper meaning of "at-risk" is defined.
As of Nov. 9, 2016, we are now faced with trumpressed "at-risk" United States citizens, those who: chose to emigrate because of deep moral mortification, are in fear of family separation and are revulsed by the elevation of Nazism and white supremacy as philosophical ideals.
Miss Ellie, spoiler alert, won her election battle in the made-up Mayberry of the Jim Crow South. That show premiered in October 1960.
Today, the reality is that the majority of women elected a man who objectifies women, whose rights are now considered nothing more than nitty gritty details of policy.
I'd like to take Aunt Bea's peach cobbler and hurl it.
When we read a biography, a memoir or autobiography, our instinct is to deposit a certain amount of trust to the story that unfolds, page after page.
This genre is backed by indexes, bibliographies, epilogues and footnotes. Photos have cut lines. Maps and figures are labeled. Attribution is usually a big co-signer. The graphic novel genre layered atop an autobiography lends toward ambiguity.
This month, I facilitated several great discussions of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Our groups discussed the evolution of the graphic novel genre. We explored Iran’s history and complicated political revolution. Women’s rights, sequential storytelling, class, geography. All these wonderful topics were surveyed and digested.
Luckily, our book discussions do not end when we leave the table. That is where the true mojo of our discussions begin. Over the past ten years, I consistently receive emails, messages and links and phone calls-remember this has been going on for ten years, aka Ancient Time- from those who attended who have researched further, looked wider and delved deeper into our books.
Hence fair warning about our time spent
The veracity of Persepolis was discussed with each book group.
It appears autobiographical…ish. According to the documentary about the making of the film based on the books, Satrapi comments that all non-fiction incorporates fiction for the purpose of good storytelling.
Sign me up for Ambiguity 101.
Sam, from our Wednesday evening group, noted the definition of our author’s last name Satrapi. Satrap means a provincial governor in the ancient Persian empire. Hmmm…digging a bit more, he also provided this link that exposes, libels, reveals, explains (you pick the verb, depending on your baggage) Satrapi’s identity and it's investigation of a politicking machine that allowed for the creation of our award-winning, high-school-required-reading-list Persepolis.
Irene Nemirovsky. Patricia Highsmith. T.S. Eliot.
Is it possible to love the book and distain the author? Is it literarily alright to deceive the reader, if the reader exits the book left satisfied with the experience? As a book discussion facilitator, as someone who discusses literature on air, with the listening public, is it okay to promote a potential puppet of deadly politics or a bigot or a big fat liar?
I’ve said it before; we all bring our own baggage to each book. Critics of Persepolis have their baggage. In awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel folks certainly have their own, too. We can never know the true identity of an author. It is not possible to ever feel confident in the veracity of their words.
When reading, we have the option to either deposit our trust with guarded fair warning or reckless enjoyment. The beauty is paginated in the never-ending experience to enjoy and discuss the power of the written word.
Patricia Highsmith was known to carry around snails in her purse. In her books, she masterfully murdered her characters in locations throughout New York City where she had sexual encounters. She ironed her jeans. She loved to weed because she considered it a form of murder.
H.P. Lovecraft gave us the literary creature Cthuhlu, a monster that spawned a mythology, countless rock bands, endless spin-off video games and an infinite number of pronunciations. He was a prolific letter writer and influenced Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.
Highsmith and Lovecraft offer the reader a fantastic opportunity to experience expertly written horror and suspense, American-style. Even though Strangers on a Train catapulted Highsmith to fame and Lovecraft died virtually unknown, both are considered iconic American authors.
Today, as Halloween approaches, and we find the election season nothing less than frightening, I suggest you check out the fabulous works of these two American writers, who bring us a worthy fright and welcome literary distraction from a creepy electoral spell.
I'll be discussing Patricia Highsmith's book and screening the Alfred Hitchcock directed film Strangers on a Train at San Marco Books and More. Details will be announced soon.
This new book club is the next chapter of First Coast Connect Book Club that I created four years ago with the wonderful support of Melissa Ross, producer and host of WJCT 89.9 FM's First Coast Connect and our partnership with the Jacksonville Public Library. What could be more delightful for any bibliophile than discussing books IN A BOOK STORE. I have the vapors...
I am indebted to Desiree Bailey, owner of this gem of a book store, Marissa Napoli, artist-in-residence and store manager and Emily Conner and her production team at Conner & Company. In January, I'll celebrate ten years of ChapterEndnotes book discussions. None of this would be possible without Randi Rogozinski. She organized our first book discussion on a cold, for Jacksonville, Florida, January afternoon back in 2007. And with her expertise, the group became groups and Chapter Endnotes continues to enrich and nurture the love of books.
The Book Club at San Marco Books and More will fill up fast. Once seats are filled, we'll start a waiting list. Sign up for your January-May subscription at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-club-in-the-bookstore-tickets-28669406968.
Book Club at the Book Store titles and details will be announced soon.
How sad that every year the library must promote the reading of banned books.
What joylessness must be had at the American Library Association as it curates titles that are challenged, banned, censored and removed from bookshelves. What is the message we send when we ban the written word from one another? What is it we fear? As the ALA promotes yet another year of celebrating banned books, fromHansel and Gretel to Persepolis, I ponder this fear.
Our libraries, schools and bookstores embrace Banned Book Week with wonderful displays and excellent programming. I hope people check out or buy the banned American Heritage and Merriam Webster Dictionaries, even if these books contain objectionable words. Banned Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a brutal story, yet I am grateful that this author allowed me into his world. Banned Charlotte’s Webis a beautiful tale of friendship. I am sorry animals die. Banned Harry Potter is magical. Magic is make-believe.
My elder son, as a child, used to close his eyes and say, “You can’t see me.” That is a tender sweet memory.
However, for adults, to close their minds, and say, “You can’t read these.” That is fear and a delusional response to freedom of expression.
It’s too bad we will be here next year, continuing to raise awareness of books banned based on misconception and misplaced consternation.