Sunday, May 20, 2012

TSS: What's A Reader To Do?

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....
This weeks Sunday Salon I am going to rant about the lack of quality black fiction being published and about how hard it is to find something that I am interested in reading from black authors.

I got this post idea from Reads of Pleasure post entitled In Search of Satisfaction.  To sum up the post, there is a lack of god quality fiction by black authors being published.  The post at Reads of Pleasure explains it more eloquently than I can so I suggest reading of her post.

I have been not so closely watching the state of traditional publishing for a while.  With the popularity of Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc on the rise it seems that traditional publishers are a little shaken up and not sure what to do.  There solution seems to be to only publish books that they know will sell.  While this might not affected a well know black author like Toni Morrison, I have a feeling that this is having a negative affect on a lot of lesser know black authors.

In fact, I know it.


Because, every couple of months I hit the web in search of new books by black authors for my book club to read.  And every couple of months, I end up frustrated.  The members of my book club have set up a couple of rules.  They don't want to read books that are too long.  All of the women in my club work and have family and lives.  They don't always have the time to complete a longer novel.  They also don't want to read what Amazon titles "Urban Life" and what I call Hood Lit.  They are also tired of reading books about slavery.  What the members of my book club what is simple.

They want books about normal everyday black folks.  Books about people like them.

That was the response I got when we read Silver Sparrow (review) by Tayari Jones.  Even though the family situation in Silver Sparrow wasn't quite normal, the characters were and they could relate to them.

I am sure there are people out there that can relate to Hood lit books and who enjoy reading them.  If there weren't then the black book market wouldn't be full with them.  And that is my problem.  It seems that publishers are only willing to take risk on certain black books and most of them seem to fit the "Urban Life" genre.  Which I don't read, and member of my book club don't read.

This presents a problem for me when I go search out new and interesting books for my member and myself. I have a hard time finding stuff.  Especially from new authors.  I find myself stumbling over the same few tried and true names and my members have already requested that we don't read anything by Toni Morrison.  Not that they don't like Ms. Morrison but her work isn't light reads and she takes a lot of energy (for lack of a better word).

I really was hoping that self-publishing would be the answer to my prayers.  That black authors of general black fiction would start to explore self-publishing.  But that doesn't seem to be the case.  When I look at B&N and Amazon most of it is still Hood Lit.

Looking over my to be read list, I am noticing a lack of color and there is not much I can do about it.  Unless I take Toni Morrison advice:

If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

What's a reader to do?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Rating: 5 Stars
Pages: 370 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Publication Date: February 2010
Source: Library

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?


It's hard to review The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks because 1) it's non-fiction and 2) I really enjoyed it.      It's hard to write a review when there is so much to say but I am trying to prevent spoilers.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot tells how a Henrietta Lacks unintentional became one of the most important women in science by dying of cancer.  But that is just part of the story.  The real story is about the children that Henrietta left behind and their struggle to understand what happened to their mother and the secrecy surrounding her contribution to science.

For a non-fiction book, I really connected with the people in it.  Normally with non-fiction (and history) the events have already happened and I consider myself more of a watcher.  I don't root for the individuals in the story.  But I found myself connecting with Henrietta's children, especially Deborah, and rooting for them. Hoping that they someone would finally give them the information that they wanted on their mother.

For those that do not have a science background, do worry.  Skloot made all the science behind the Henrietta's story understandable.

To finished this in two days and did not want to put it down.  Which is something that I don't often say about non-fiction books.

Overall Recommendation:

This is a must read.  I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Find: May 4th

Friday Finds hosted by Should Be Reading ask:

What great books did you hear about/discover this past week? Share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!

This week wasn't bad.  I found 6 books to add to my TBR list.

(Clicking on the image will take you to the books GoodReads page)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Through Thursday: Siblings

This week Booking Through Thursday ask:

A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now. 

Heidi asks:
Do you have siblings? Do they like to read?
Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
I am the oldest of four.  I have two younger sisters and the baby of the family is a boy.

I would love to be able to say that I come from a family of readers.  But that is not true.  There are only two readers in my family.  Myself and the second oldest.  The love for reading appears to have skipped the other two.  I like to think that by the time my other got around to having the other two, she had exhausted all of her good genes and that they were stuck with the leftovers.

You would think that my baby brother liked to read since he works at a library.  But I can't ever remember seeing my with a book.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: The List by J.A. Konrath

Rating: 3 Stars
Pages: eBook
Genre: Thiller
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Publication Date: April 2009
Source: Personal Collection

Synopsis (Goodreads):

JA Konrath is the author of six novels in the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series, the latest of which is Cherry Bomb.

THE LIST is a bit of a departure for Konrath. It's a technothriller about a group of ten people who all have tattoos of numbers on the bottoms their feet, and don't know why.

One of them, a Chicago Homicide cop named Tom Mankowski, has had one of these strange tattoos since birth. When he investigates a violent murder and discovers the victim also has a tattooed number, it sets the ball rolling for an adventure of historic proportions.

To say more would give away too much.

Like the Jack Daniels series, The List combines laugh out loud humor with serious suspense and thrills.

If the Kindle had back jacket copy, it would read:

A billionaire Senator with money to burn...
A thirty year old science experiment, about to be revealed...
Seven people, marked for death, not for what they know, but for what they are...


     The main reason that I picked up this one was because 1) because it was free, 2) I have been curious about Konrath novels for a while.  I normally and not a thriller reader but when I do read them I do enjoy them.  I think it is the pace, because they are fast paced and writers of thrillers seem to jump straight into the action, it makes it really easy to get caught up into the story.
     The List is just as fast as any thriller novel.  I was hooked within the first couple of pages.  I wanted to know what connections Mankowski had with the other victims and potential victims.  The action never stopped and because of that reason I was able to finish The List in one date (and it is not that long).
     The plot was interesting at first.  I was intrigue to find out about the number tattoos on the bottom of the foot and how these tattoos connected the character.  But as the story progressed and things began to fall into place, it become clear that the plot was pretty outlandish.  Completely and totally unrealistic, in order to enjoy The List. I sort of had to suspend my disbelief and just roll with it. As the story progressed I had to suspend my disbelief even more, Kornath throw in everything but the kitchen skin in his plot.
     While the pace was fast there was not much character development.  The characters were just there, I wanted to see what was going to happen to them but I wasn't invested in them.  The lack of character development did not take away from my enjoyment of the story but I did notice that I could have cared less if one of the main characters lived or died.
      The writing was average. There were some funny jokes that made me chuckle but it was more like slap stick comedy.

Overall Recommendation:
     I would recommend this one to anyone that what wants an easy and fast paced thriller to read.  I would add in the warning that the plot is a little outlandish and the unrealistic.