Tag Archives: new york times

Spider Bites: Immortally Giving Back

Coming almost as a surprise, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has proved to be quite popular even here in New Albany, with word-of-mouth providing almost as much impetus to new readers as the publicity here and there during its hardcover run.

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Still Giving - in paperback this March

As usual, Saturday’s we point you to an author Website with “Spider Bites.” This week, we have an unusually rich array of links to help you discover why this book has been so popular and why it will be made into a film by HBO and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

With the paperback release on the near horizon (early March), the New York Times profiled the philanthropy established by the author with some of the profits from the book. Henrietta Lacks was, of course, real, and her cells have proved to be immeasurably valuable. Yet, neither she nor her family new that these cells, dubbed HeLa, could be cultured outside the body and used extensively in medical research. The Lacks family obtained no benefit from them, either.

Until now, perhaps.

The author has a bright, informative Website that’s loaded with multi-media features and links, and you can access it here.

And as the Times article attests, Skloot has established a foundation to ensure that some of the proceeds from the book would help Lacks’ descendants achieve some of the educational and health benefits they arguably deserve. The foundation’s Website is here.

If you’ve read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, please share your impressions with our readers in the comments section below. Have a great weekend.

Sunday will bring another installment of “The Lists.” If you have a suggestion or request for which list we ought to feature, let us know. And hey, I understand there is a ballgame of some kind on Sunday evening. Enjoy it.

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“You Should Write a Book!” Uh-huh

Neal Genzlinger, writing in the New York Times on Friday, lamented the explosion of memoirs. Perhaps its purely a professional lament, but what he has to say is worth considering.

Looks Easy Enough

Yeah. Maybe that's the problem?

In the process of reviewing 4 new memoirs (3 of which he says should never have been written), Genzlinger complains that the plethora of new memoirs tends to crowd out those with a truly compelling story, not to mention those exemplary writers who can take the mundane and turn it into a singular snapshot of a historical moment.

Here’s a passage from his piece:

“Sure, the resulting list has authors who would be memoir-eligible under the old rules. But they are lost in a sea of people you’ve never heard of, writing uninterestingly about the unexceptional, apparently not realizing how commonplace their little wrinkle is or how many other people have already written about it. Memoirs have been disgorged by virtually every­one who has ever had cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight. By anyone who has ever taught an underprivileged child, adopted an under­privileged child or been an under­privileged child. By anyone who was raised in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s, not to mention the ’50s, ’40s or ’30s. Owned a dog. Run a marathon. Found religion. Held a job.”

Now, you might think that Genzlinger is being an elitist … that a literary world where “Every Man a King” becomes “Every Breathing Soul an Author” is a good thing.

But I tend to side with him (and yes, that may also be a professional lament).

It is possible today for almost anyone (anyone with the financial means, anyway) to “write” a book. There is no end to the number of “publishers” willing to take your money and promise you the moon.

And likewise, there’s no doubt that most of us have told a story and had a listener say “You should write a book!”

Countless bloggers have seen their work, if sufficiently unified, be turned into a book, a play, a movie, or a television series.

But for a reviewer (or a bookseller or a reader), wading through the output (sorry to say it that way) becomes a grinding game of blind man’s buff.

I offer no solutions. Perhaps the uber-democracy of self-publishing and the willingness of publishers to gamble on true tales in the hopes of landing their book author on Oprah is a sign of progress.

What do you think?


So here’s a bonus … a memoir that I loved, that Genzlinger probably wouldn’t have, that I always keep in stock, and about which someone surely must have said “You should write a book!”

Phoebe Damrosch

Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
HarperCollins (2008) $13.99 PB

Phoebe Damrosch’s very personal account of moving up in the restaurant world by taking a job at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in Manhattan. It is delightful, and inspired my dream of taking a dozen of my patrons on a New York trip for dinner there and a Broadway play. Anyone interested?

Read about Damrosch in this 2007 New York magazine feature story (photo credit to same), or you can visit her Website here.


* Sincere apologies to the author of the book whose cover we used to illustrate Genzlinger’s point. Neither he nor I intend to cast aspersions on the value or quality of that work. It does, however, scream out the reviewer’s main thesis. Hey, at least I included a sales link. Anybody else do that for you today?

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