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March 24, 2010 / schulerbooks

Reading Recommendations

Sorry I’ve been slacking a little on the blog – you can always tell when it gets busy around here!

Anyways, here are a few recommended titles that I’ve read and reviewed recently!

A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell (Harper Perennial)

I’ll admit it was the promised family history of “betrayal, madness and incest” that snagged me into reading the first chapter in this memoir. Crafted of short – literally a page or two – vignettes, I thought I could just pick it up and put it down from time to time. But more often than not I didn’t put it down, finding myself completely absorbed.

Part of the appeal is that the author grew up in a recognizable sort of small-ish town 80s culture that dredges up fun memories. Part is the aforementioned family drama, some of which is indeed shocking. But the largest part is the utterly honest matter-of-fact manner of Sampsell’s recitation, complemented by surprising, provocative turns of thought. (“Sure, my dad gave me a vibrator to gift to my mom. Hey, my friend Maurice and I had this neat secret language!”) The culmination is a compulsively readable book from a fresh voice.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown)

(Currently 25% off at SchulerBooks.com!)

The true-life story that this book details goes well beyond any standard biography, which should probably be expected for the woman who is the basis behind nearly every bit of human genetic research that has been done in the past 60 years. The fascinating thing is that she never knew of this contribution, nor did her family until 20 years after her death.

When Henrietta Lacks was dying of cervical cancer, a doctor took a sample of her tumor and managed, for the first time, to grow human cells from the sample. Those cells led to the development of treatments for numerous diseases, have been used in genetic mapping, and can be found in laboratories across the globe.

Since Henrietta was a poor black woman, tracing the story of the unknown progenitor of these HeLa cells touches on issues of ethics, class and race, culminating in this fantastic book and its current placement on the New York Times bestseller list.

Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland Ed. by David Rose (Scribner)

This compendium with the oh-so-intriguing title is a follow up to 2006’s They Call Me Naughty Lola, a ridiculously compelling collection of personal ads from the London Review of Books. The Review’s personal ads section is far superior, and far more entertaining, than any I’ve ever seen, as a full-on display of the quirky, self-deprecating, and often bizarre British sense of humor capsulated into a “Desperately Seeking” format.

Rather than succumbing to the “Tall, suave man in his early 40s” personal ads hallmark, these lonely singles are brutally honest, and, as readers of the Review, rather erudite, making for outrageous and often absurd results like the following prime specimen: “I’m no Victoria’s Secret model. Man, 62.” It’s ad after ad of snorts and chuckles reading that’ll make you feel better about the state of singlehood.

–Whitney

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