Amanda Gates
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A Musings - January 2011

The Hunger Games was my first Kindle purchase. It was $5. I clicked “buy” on Amazon and within 30 seconds, the book was on my Kindle. I have to say, that’s pretty amazing. The Kindle pages look very similar to book pages, and turning the page took just a press of the forward arrow.

As I started reading on my Kindle, this is how I felt for about the first half of the book: I missed that feeling of accomplishment. With a real book, you get that satisfaction as the pages you’ve read start outnumbering the pages you haven’t. You can physically see how far you are. You can also easily flutter through to see how many pages you are away from the end of a chapter. With a Kindle, sure you can page to the end of a chapter, but it’s not as easy as holding your finger in the book to mark your spot. Along the bottom of a Kindle page, it shows the percentage of what you’ve read. So, this should give me that feeling of accomplishment… but as a visual learner, this meant very little to me. But, I assume as I read more and more books this way, I’ll get use to this method.

But, I have to say, by the last half of the book, I forgot I was reading on my Kindle. I got used to the “flipping,” it read easily on the e-ink, and it was so convenient to slip into my purse. (Maybe I would’ve stuck with Pillars of the Earth if I had it on a Kindle instead of lugging around 1,000 pages? Probably not.) I’m reading a real book again at the moment, and love holding it in my hands, but I have to say, the Kindle isn’t so bad to hold either.

Another downfall: I’ve told one of my bffs that she’ll really enjoy The Hunger Games. And I realized I can’t lend it to her. And that makes me sad. But, I have a goal to declutter even more in 2011, which means selling lots more of my books. The reason I keep books is to lend them out. But, having more space and a more peaceful mind needs to outweigh keeping books just for the possibility of lending them (sorry, please still be my friends!), and maybe more Kindle books is the way to do that.

Commenting on my first Kindle post, Manda asked me if using a Kindle means I still feel “connected” to everything. Manda said she likes picking up a book and turning off all that technology. I didn’t feel that way at all. My Kindle isn’t connected to anything. I’m not planning to sign up for news through it or anything. Nothing bongs or tweets at me while I’m reading. It’s going to strictly be for books and just because it’s “electronic,” well, even after just one book, it doesn’t feel “electronic” to me. I’m just reading as I always have.

Other people commented on missing libraries and bookstores. First, I’ll never stop perusing bookstores. I love them, even when I don’t buy anything, which is most often. However, I’ve been buying (or having people buy for me) a majority of my books online for years now. They’re cheaper. They come right to your house. It’s easy for gift-giving. So, that part I won’t miss, actually. I can still stop at B&N; over lunch – and buy children’s books now! – and the only thing that really changes about my buying habits is that my books get delivered to the Kindle in seconds as opposed to the house in days by mail.

In the end, I really like it. I do still feel a touch guilty about that, though. And, like iTunes, when you can just click “buy” and instantly have a book in place, it’s important to learn restraint. Because I still have plenty of books on my shelf left to read, too, I’ve put a limit on my Kindle purchases. Right now, nothing more than $5 or so - and with $40 in gift cards to spend, that's a lot of books. After awhile, I’ll re-evaluate. And I’ll obviously still be reading both ways. I don’t expect ever to give up actual books, but if it comes cheaper on the Kindle and it’s something I really want to read, the Kindle it is.

So, now what do you think? I think I've struck a good balance, plus I tried, and enjoyed, something new. Have I changed any minds?

Posted: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 08:45 |
The Hunger Games

Kind of like Twilight, I really didn't know what The Hunger Games trilogy was until I read in my Entertainment Weekly about the movie being made about the books. Then the third book was listed on several Best Of 2010 lists, so I thought maybe I'd give it a try. The first book was $5 on Kindle, and I needed to try that out, too (more on my first Kindle experience in another post), so I decided The Hunger Games would be my first Kindle book.

Synopsis:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival.

When I first read the synopsis, I wasn't sure. Seemed a little too Sci-Fi for me... however, I've enjoyed Sci-Fi a bit more lately, plus this was a young-adult novel, so I knew it wasn't going to get too complicated or out there for my liking. The premise is obviously depressing and I couldn't imagine actually enjoying a book that kills off teenagers one by one - for sport. But the author does a decent job of making several of Katniss' competitors, and the residents of the Capitol, unlikable while at the same time making our heroine our primary concern.

The Hunger Games are kind of like the Olympics because there's training, an opening ceremonies, costumes, interviews and performance. A good portion of the book is devoted to all these elements leading up to the actual Games. While it was interesting and you meet some important characters during this part of the book, I was anxious for the action to start. And, I have to say that while reading about kids killing each other (sick, right?) was hard, the Games were the most interesting, fast-moving part of the novel. You learn about strategy, survival, greed, alliances, trust and love.

When you go into book knowing there are sequels, you lose part of the mystery, but then The Hunger Games ends on a loose end and definitely makes you want more. I really liked the book, it was written very well and was very engaging. I read for two hours straight last Saturday night and I haven't done that in a long, long time. So, I'm very excited for the next two books.

Posted: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 08:22 | Comments: 3
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a thirty-something black woman living in the 1940s when she died of cervical cancer. The way the cancer ravaged her body, doctors knew there was something special about those cancer cells. They took a sample, and long story short, those cells never died. All cells eventually die, but not Henrietta's. They went on to become HeLa cells and helped scientists do many, many things, like cure polio, discover the many strains of HPV, perform cloning, discover drugs for leukemia and influenza... it goes on and on. Because these cells never died and continued to reproduce at an alarming rate, they gave scientists a set of base cells to always pull from and experiment on. Today billions of HeLa cells can be found in labs around the world.

 
However, Henrietta and her family were never aware these cells had been taken from her and then passed around the world. It took decades before articles about HeLa cells even got her name correct (they used Helen Lane and others) that it came as quite a shock to her children and husband (again, decades later) that her cells were still alive. This raised major issue because here was a poor family with many health problems among them and there seemed to be unfairness that while their mother's cells were helping science and making money, they couldn't afford health care.
 
Author Rebecca Skloot was a ambitious and determined 20-something (and white) woman when she decided to write this book. It took her a long time to just get permission from the family to talk to them. They had been through the ringer and stepped on enough by people with other motivations - they weren't willing to talk to another reporter. She endured hang ups. Abandoned meetings. Complete ignoring. Once they decided to let her in, they let her in very, very slowly and it took several more years to get all the information about Henrietta and her family and her cells that Skloot would need to write this book.
 
The book follows Skloot on her journey to write the book, while also alternating between chapters of Henrietta's history, Lacks family history and the science behind the HeLa cells. I thought the layout was well done. I liked learning about Skloot's struggles and fears. She also wrote about the science portion in a very digestible manner. Cell division and its experiments are not easy to understand, but she made it easy. And while they were hard to get to know at first, you grow a fondness for the Lacks family, particularly Henrietta's daughter Deborah. She was Skloot's main ally - though she had many fears and doubts and even some paranoia (how Skloot kept up her patience, I'll never know). Deborah was so young when her mother died, she just wanted to learn more about her.
 
The book brings up so many ethical issues. There are no laws on the books that say patients have a right to the tissue samples that doctors take (with or without their knowledge), even if those tissue samples go on to make millions. While it seems very unfair that the Lacks family received nothing from Henrietta's cells, if they were to sue, they would most likely come up empty.
 
Is this fair? I can't really wrap my head around it. One expert Skloot talked to said that it's our moral duty as humans to provide parts of ourselves for research to help the greater good. That makes sense. If the Lacks family were asked way back then about using Henrietta's cells for science and said no, where would we be? Or, if they got permission to stop usage of HeLa cells now, science would take huge steps back. But, then you go back to the fact that they can't afford many, many things you'd want them to be able to afford. Is there a middle ground? Probably not without opening a huge can of worms.
 
Reading about Skloot's journey, but also Deborah and her family's journey of acceptance for what has happened, is so interesting. They're insanely proud and also pissed at the same time. And I think I would be too. Deborah said, "If you're gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different."
 
Skloot meets another relative of Henrietta's who believes, along with many family members, that Henrietta is alive as an angel - as the cells. She's doing God's work as the cells, helping people all over the world. I loved this sentiment.
 
The book is well written, easy to follow and wholly entertaining. It's a great and very impressive effort by a first-time author. I highly recommend it. It gets you thinking.
Posted: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 18:45 | Comments: 1

There have been several bits of book news lately that I’ve wanted to comment on. I had dreams of separate posts for them all, but that’s not going to happen, so I’m smashing them all into one post instead.

1. Huckleberry Finn Censoring.
This came as quite a shock to me when I heard it on the news the other day. It seems very strange and misguided to change the text of a historic book in order to protect innocent readers, increase use in schools or just be more politically correct. Like Dr. Sarah Churchill says in a Guardian article,

“The fault lies with the teaching, not the book. You can't say 'I'll change Dickens so it is compatible with my teaching method'. Twain's books are not just literary documents but historical documents, and that word is totemic because it encodes all of the violence of slavery. The point of the book is that Huckleberry Finn starts out racist in a racist society, and stops being racist and leaves that society. These changes mean the book ceases to show the moral development of his character.”

However, an EW blogger points on that this censorship would only happen in certain copies of the book – most likely those meant for school-aged children. So, is this any different than censoring R-rated movies on TV so an immature audience doesn’t see/read something its not ready for? I thought that was an interesting point, at least. [Edited to add: This post by Flavorwire, changing other challenged books to be more "appropriate" is great. Also, Susan Orlean's take in the New Yorker.]

In the end, I think I fall on the side not changing the book. It just seems wrong. If I wrote a book one day, I would hate for the powers that be to decide to change it after I’m gone. (Yes, this is a short and simple thought on an very complex issue. But, I don't have the energy to really get into it right now.)

2. New Yorker’s Millennium Trilogy column.
Critic Joan Acocella asks Why Do People Love Stieg Larsson’s novels? She points out many reasons not to like them. Bad dialogue. Loose ends. Unnecessary detail. Not enough detail. A poor choice in male protagonist. I read other bloggers commenting on Acocella’s column saying they agreed with her – they hate the books, too. However, I don’t think Acocella hates these books. She does defend Larsson and the books a bit as well. She thinks the claims he’s a women-hater because of the scenes of violence against women are unwarranted. She likes Lisbeth as the heroine. And, she praises the books use of technology.

I agreed with her on all accounts. Sure, the books have too much detail – I barely kept reading Dragon Tattoo because the first 100 pages were so hard to get through – and there were huge loose ends (Lisbeth's sister??) and bad dialogue. I chalk the loose ends up to the author’s early death. And bad dialogue? Well, see Star Wars and Twilight, and I still love those. I too loved Lisbeth as a heroine, and I was very impressed by Larsson’s knowledge of computers and hacking. He was very up-to-date - if not ahead of our time considering when he wrote these - on security measures and hacking abilities when it comes to technology.

Something I found interesting was Acocella's analysis of Larsson’s view of Sweden. Perhaps it isn’t the Utopia of everything that we Americans think it is?

3. With the New Year came several Best Of lists. Here are just a few:
Goodreads Choice Awards
New York Times
Time Magazine Fiction & Nonfiction

I was pleased to see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on several lists. I’ve had this book for several months and am reading it right now, so I feel proud to have picked this one out on my own before seeing it make all these lists.

The third book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, also made many lists. I’m late to the game on this series – much like Twilight – but I’ve heard good things, so I plan to start it soon.

Room is also all over these lists. I’ve read about this book and heard from trusted sources that it’s pretty amazing, yet quite sad and disturbing. I’m not quite sure it’s up my alley, at least for the moment.

The Emperor of All Maladies also made several lists. This has been on my Amazon Wish List for awhile. I’m waiting for this book to either drop its Kindle price or come out on paperback, but I’m definitely interested.

I didn’t read The Corrections, so Freedom, even though it made ALL lists, isn’t high on my own reading list.

I couldn’t believe Time picked Faithful Place as a top book of the year. While I liked it, it wasn’t as good as her others, and with only picking 10 books out of all from 2010, I couldn’t believe this was one of its choices.

What are your thoughts? Censorship opinions? Millennium lovers or haters? Your top books published in 2010?

Posted: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 14:24 |