The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Crown, $26, February 2, 2010
All the HeLa cells ever grown would weigh about 50 million metric tons, and HeLa cells are still used in labs around the world. They have helped develop drugs for treating numerous diseases, from influenza to Parkinson's. While this research was taking place—and pharmaceutical companies were making millions of dollars—Henrietta's family could not afford health insurance.
Skloot spent 10 years of her life working on this book, and over that time period she became close with the Lacks family, especially Deborah Lacks, Henrietta's daughter and the heart of the book. The excerpted passage describes the moment Deborah agreed to cooperate with Skloot.
A few days later, ten months after our first conversation, Deborah called me. When I answered the phone, she yelled, "Fine, I'll talk to you!" She didn't say who she was and didn't need to. "If I'm gonna do this, you got to promise me some things," she said. "First, if my mother is so famous in science history, you got to tell everybody to get her name right. She ain't no Helen Lane. And second, everybody always say Henrietta Lacks had four children. That ain't right, she had five children. My sister died and there's no leavin her out of the book. I know you gotta tell all the Lacks story and there'll be good and bad in that cause of my brothers. You gonna learn all that, I don't care. The thing I care about is, you gotta find out what happened to my mother and my sister, cause I need to know."
She took a deep breath, then laughed.
"Get ready, girl," she said. "You got no idea what you gettin yourself into."
What are you reading today?
You're going to hear more about this story, as next month Focus Features will start shooting a movie adaptation, with Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) and Anne Hathaway starring.
According to UK paper The Guardian, the book was made for the screen:
Former actor David Nicholls writes novels with at least one eye on the big screen. Having successfully translated his debut Starter For Ten into a film, his latest novel suggests more feelgood outings to the local picture house. One Day tells the story of potential love thwarted by the disappointments of post-university existence. It begins with a drunken tryst on the night of Emma and Dexter's graduation, and each subsequent chapter visits the pair on the same day of the year as they stumble through their adult lives. While the plot might sound like a movie pitch, Nicholls is a great comic writer, and One Day's characters are so luminously rendered that they quickly assume heart-thumping significance.
For a preview of the novel, read chapter one on Vintage's website.
When Trisha sent me the link to this trailer, she joked that "we're draining the blood from the vamp craze." (Amish vampires, anyone?) Still, seems like the trend isn't going anywhere, and Blood Oath author Christopher Farnsworth got a major nod when Janet Maslin mentioned his novel in a New York Times roundup of guilt-free reads. As you might guess from the book's tagline ("The Ultimate Secret. The Ultimate Agent. The President's Vampire."), Blood Oath is about the President's undead protector. Not hooked yet? Take a look at the dramatic trailer:
Will you read Blood Oath? What book trailers are you buzzing about this week?
Today Publisher's Marketplace posted a new book deal from Ellen DeGeneres—as the comedian and talk-show host said, "I found that between my talk show, American Idol and my late night blogging, I didn't have enough ways to express myself."
Ellen has already written a couple other books: The Funny Thing Is. . . and My Point. . . and I Do Have One. And if you can't get enough of all things Ellen, her mother, Betty, wrote a book called Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey.
The new book is pitched as a look at DeGeneres' "life through her humor." A lot has happened since DeGeneres published The Funny Thing Is. . . in 2003: from marriage to Portia de Rossi, to judging American Idol, to appearing on Oprah's magazine.
Are there any topics you hope Ellen will address? Will you look for this book? (It's coming in fall 2011 from Grand Central.)
Our June print edition has been available in bookstores and libraries for a couple weeks now, but in case you haven't had a chance to pick up the issue, we're highlighting all the reviews and features on BookPage.com. This week, a few books get a special shout-out on our homepage:
Read an interview with Aimee Bender on her novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
A boy with keys for fingers. A woman who gives birth to her own mother. Imps and mermaids falling in love. If all of this sounds too strange—even for fiction—then you’ve obviously never read anything by Aimee Bender. But now, with the publication of her second novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it’s clearly time that you should.
Plan a summer trip in the USA with reviews of great travel books
How can you get away without the fuss and expense of flying? Road trip! These travel guides showcase America’s natural, historical and cultural wonders, so gas up the car and hit the road. Spontaneous jaunts can be memorable, but why not invest some planning in your trip? And if you like a little history and learning with your getaway, the Complete National Parks of the United States, is a great starting point for exploring America’s gorgeous parklands.
Read a review of Joshilyn Jackson's first-rate new novel, Backseat Saints
You only think you know what you’re in for when Backseat Saints begins: “It was an airport gypsy who told me that I had to kill my husband.” Joshilyn Jackson’s fourth novel isn’t a series of funny, trashy set pieces out of Dogpatch; rather, the tale Jackson tells is grim, and unless you count the narrator’s dog and a few minor characters, there’s not one likable person in it.
Will you be reading any of these books?
Now publisher Little Brown has announced that Angelina Jolie will play the part of Cleopatra in an upcoming film adaptation (produced by Scott Rudin).
This is the second literary adaptation this year for Jolie, who will also play Patricia Cornwell's M.E. Kay Scarpetta in an upcoming feature film. What do you think of the casting choice?
What interesting blog posts have you read this week? A few of my favorites include. . .
The Happy Ghost
Posted by Bill Morris on The Millions
If you've ever been curious about ghostwriters ("publishing’s dirty little secret"), then you have to read this post on The Millions, in which Morris asserts that ghostwriting has "officially left the ghetto." For more on the topic, read my interview with The Baby-sitters Club creator Ann M. Martin, who described the process of collaborating with about 10 different ghostwriters while writing her mega-bestselling series.
Ward Six List of 10 Over 80
Posted by Rhian Ellis on Ward Six
Everyone's been buzzing about The New Yorker's top writers under 40 (including us), so I loved seeing a different spin on lit blog Ward Six. Contributor Rhian Ellis writes, "All the following writers will turn 80 or more this year, and all have been kicking ass for longer than we have been alive," and gives shout-outs to Harper Lee, Beverly Cleary and others.
Literary tattoos and why I’ll never get one
Posted by Trish on Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin?
I got a kick out of looking at these tattoos and imagining what kind of bookish symbol I might get—what about you? Or do you agree with Trish, who wrote, "If I were going to get a literary tattoo, then I would want something simple, like the tree in the third pic, but all the things I love about books are that they’ve changed my life perspective, and those things can’t be summed up in a graphic (for me)."
Last night I saw Shawn Colvin perform live at Nashville's beautiful Cheekwood Botanical Garden. And I was tickled to get more than just a great live show: On stage, Colvin chatted about her upcoming memoir from HarperCollins, A Few Small Repairs, named for her 1996 album that featured the hit "Sunny Came Home."
She asked the audience what they'd prefer: information about the music she's played—or dirt. Surprisingly, the audience was split in their reactions. (Confession: I hollered for "dirt.")
Colvin gave more information about her book in a March interview with The Birmingham News:
"It’s a combination of stories about my life and stories I’ve told on stage, but they’re not presented in chronological order," Colvin says. "I include some of my musical thoughts, and stories that I find amusing and other people have found amusing—or not amusing." The challenges she faces as a woman, a parent, a musician and "someone who suffers from depression" will be fused into the narrative, Colvin says. Crafting a memoir proved to be quite different from songwriting, she says, and Colvin prepared by reading the work of Mary Karr, the best-selling author of a memoir trilogy, and Open, a frank autobiography by former tennis champ Andre Agassi.
Also on The Book Case: See a recent post on celebrity memoirs.
After nearly three hundred years of deliberation, Double Falsehood has been included in the latest Arden Edition of the Shakespeare canon, which was published last month. This lost play, first published in 1727, has always claimed to be a reworking of a 1613 play written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, but from the first, Bard watchers have been skeptical. Double Falsehood was clearly not 100% Shakespeare, after all. Even Brean Hammond, the Shakespearean scholar who spent 10 years studying the play and editor of the Arden Shakespeare Edition, believes that the 18th century publisher of the play, Theobald, significantly "cut and altered the work to suit his 18th century audience" though in an interview with the BBC, he says he is certain that Shakespeare "had a strong hand in" the first act, the second act, and at least part of Act III.
The 17th-century stage was somewhat collaborative, but should anything outside of the 1623 First Folio count as canon? Arden and Hammond voted yes, and a reignited interest in Shakespeare is the result.
A representative from Bloomsbury, who publishes the Arden Shakespeare series, says "the Arden General Editors and Arden publisher, Margaret Bartley, took considerable risk in publishing this title because they believed it was in the best interest of Shakespeare scholarship. It was a bold move but true to Arden’s roots as the pre-eminent publisher of Shakespeare and early modern drama studies for more than a century."
Decide for yourself: The Guardian has a short excerpt. I haven't read Shakespeare since college so my opinion means exactly less than zilch, but I have to say I'm curious.
Al Roker has written a novel about murders on a morning talk show, and now Star Jones is getting in on the action. The former co-host of The View will publish a book with Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books "about the female hosts of a daytime talk show who learn that a former colleague—who departed under mysterious circumstances, and is privy to all their backstage secrets—is coming back with a splash."
Page Six has more dish on the novel:
Jones was pushed off The View by Walters in 2006 and famously said her co-hosts "were hateful." She now says of her TV career, "I've met some of the most fascinating people, heard the most surprising situations, and been privy to so many great stories and secrets. But while this novel will be dishy, it will be a work of fiction." But an insider said, "There will be tales in the book which will leave readers wondering if they are based on real events and characters. It's being carefully vetted by lawyers."
But can she make the switch to fiction? Gallery's published several bestsellers, including Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea; sTori Telling; and He’s Just Not That Into You. Will Jones's novel also climb to the top? Will you read it? (Will Barbara Walters?)