Tag Archives: Rebecca Skloot

The Prose Practice – Is There Another ‘One Day’ Out There?

The other day I had a direct book recommendation question which I thought you could all help me with. I do find it very odd when people I weren’t aware had read my blog and then ask me in the flesh for a recommendation of something to read next. I tend to go a bit flustered and then my mind goes blank.

This happened the other day when one of my aunties friends had read ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls then gone to look up some reviews of it and had happened across mine (which is the most popular post on Savidge Reads ever so far – random). It seemed we were on a complete wave length with the book and so she wondered if I could recommend any other books like it that she would love just as much.

Initially I thought ‘ooh that’s easy’ but actually it’s really not. I do think ‘One Day’ is a book rather unlike many I have read. Some people have labelled it chick-lit by a man, which I think under sells it to be honest and I would rather call it an accessible page turning modern classic. So my initial list included such titles as ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy and ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot however they only have the fact they are wonderfully written books that kept me reading spellbound into the early hours like ‘One Day’ did. They aren’t another ‘One Day’ really, but then again is there one? Or do I recommend something that’s really a modern love story, which is of course rather serendipitous being the day today is.

So I am now thinking that I should come up with three lists and of course I will need your help with this. We all love recommending books to someone who is keen to read lots after all don’t we? I am aware that some of you haven’t read ‘One Day’ (if you haven’t then you simply must) but you can join in two as I have three sort of books I am looking for, which are;

  • Can you recommend accessible well written page turners be they fiction or non, ones that kept you glued to your book until the small hours, made you miss stops on public transport, late for work and the whole outside world disappear?
  • Are there any other books that are like ‘One Day’? Would any of the other David Nicholls books have the same effect on a reader?
  • What are the best modern love stories?

So let’s show some love and lovely recommendations on this loving day for a new book lover. I know you will come up with some great reads and as ever I am as interested in your responses as my aunties friend will be when I pass them on. Much love to you all for joining in!

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Books of 2010 Part Two…

So in my second list of books that I loved in 2010 I decided to go for books that were published in hardback or paperback for the first time in 2010. There are some exceptions though and I have not included any of The Green Carnation Prize long or shortlisted books as I don’t know if I could rate them in the same way I do the books I read randomly and pop on the blog, is that fair of me? I will have to think about that more going forward in 2011 maybe? Right anyway, as Miranda Hart would say, let’s get on with the show…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (Pan Books)

“…there is so much in this book that it’s really, really hard to do it justice in any kind of way. It’s book that will open your eyes to some of the most important times in modern science, the not that distant injustice of racial segregation was still going on (Henrietta was on a coloured only ward) and a real life family drama that you couldn’t possibly believe isn’t fiction, but it’s all very real and makes for an incredibly emotional and utterly brilliant book. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s definitely one of my books of the year, if not the book of the year so far for me. It’s emotional, angering, thought provoking and mind expanding; it’s also incredibly readable and an important book too.”

Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)

“Sofia Oksanen has written something quite amazing. It is a rare book that takes me on such an emotional journey and to such dark places and yet leaves me almost unable to put the book down. Her prose is absolutely stunning (and here I should credit Lola Rogers on a fantastic translation) and without ever being too graphic she manages to drop in enough information to let the reader work out what’s going on and yet leave enough unsaid that we create the scenes in our own minds which is often the more disturbing and effective than spelling everything out.”

One Day – David Nicholls (Hodder)

“I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic… A book that will leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly.”

Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi (Peirene Press)

“I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.”

The Long Song – Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there… If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to faraway places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless… This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.”

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee (Corsair)

“It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though…  Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence.”

Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)

“Emma Donoghue does something incredibly special with ‘Room’. By putting us in the mind of 5 year old Jack she makes us see things from both the innocence of the child narrating and the cynical knowledge the reader has as an adult and rather than play it for a schmaltzy tale of woe, or a calculated tear fest, though the book is emotional in parts. It’s also very funny in parts too and that’s all down to the child eye observance of Jack and his voice. Child narrators can sometimes really grate on me, let alone books that are written in a slightly childish dialect, yet I could have listened to Jack describing his life for pages and pages more.”

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)

“Not only do you have a mystery or two in the book to work out, you have this overall mystery of just how on earth everything interlinks and with ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ she draws out the process by introducing each character and bringing their circumstances and personalities to the fore. No one dimensional characters here, not even if they are merely in the book for a page or two. All the main characters are marvelous, readable and real. In doing so she also gets to voice her thoughts on both issues from the past (in this case the serial killings in the seventies which gripped the nation and left many women in fear) and in the present (prostitution, child welfare, the recession, dementia) through their back stories which makes it even a fuller read.”

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (Headline Review)

“I should say it will be hard to do this book justice full stop, it will also be hard to say too much without giving everything away and spoiling it for the reader… For me the star of the whole book was the writing. Every single sentence was a real joy to read and seemed to have been crafted with care as if every word counted and that is a rare find I think. In some ways it reminded me of the way Brooklyn was crafted though the stories are nothing a like at all. The fact that on top of this atmospheric and beautiful writing are two such interesting women, a whole cast of wonderful crafted characters and a plot makes this a wonderful book for the reader, you won’t want to rush it rather savour every line page by page.”

The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer (Myriad Editions)

If I said to you that ‘The Clay Dreaming’ was a book about an aboriginal cricket team arriving in London in 1868 it might not sound like the type of book you would instantly rush down to your nearest book shop to grab… The prose is masterly, the characters are full drawn – apart from the mysterious ones of course and I could easily imagine this having been published in installments in the papers/magazines of the late 1800’s… It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on.”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

I wasn’t sure how I would react to the very real non fiction of ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot as firstly I have been very close to someone dying of cancer when I went and looked after my granddad (Granny Savidge Reads husband) during the last 7 weeks of his life three years ago and therefore I could have a rather emotional response which could be good or bad. Secondly I have never been a big fan of all things scientifical (is that a word), I was hopeless at science, not helped by the fact my Mum was dating and pregnant by my science teacher – who is now my stepdad – and taught at the school so science as a subject was a write off in my moody teenage  years and has been since on the whole. Despite all this I really, really, really wanted to read the story of Henrietta Lacks when I heard about it on the radio and though it was  full of science and made me cry it is an utterly incredible read.

I doubt any thoughts that I try and jot down on ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ will be able to do justice to the book itself but I will try my hardest. To talk about the book I am going to have to give some of true Henrietta Lacks story away but before embarking on the novel you are more than likely to know all this already. Henrietta Lacks was a woman living on the edge of constant poverty in Virginia when in 1951 she discovered she had a ‘knot’ in her body and didn’t feel right. It was soon discovered that she had cancer and though she didn’t know it, or tell anyone, initially at the time this was a devastatingly aggressive kind.

Whist undergoing her treatment some cells were taken from her cervix, she had no knowledge of this, which became the first cells which could live and thrive outside the body, and they were named the ‘immortal’ HeLa cells. What Rebecca Skloot does is not only discover just  what those cells have been used for (nuclear tests, the combating of all sorts of diseases like polio – which I only just had a jab for so made me think even further, I could go on and on but you need to read it to believe it) and how they have changed the world, she also finds out about who Henrietta Lacks was.

Skloot has clearly done hours and hours of research on the facts; looking through documents surrounding HeLa cells and passes this onto the reader without ever bombarding them with too much or showing off the level of work that has gone into this book. She also makes things like cell lines, tissue culture and genetic make up easy to digest and appeal to the layman (i.e. me) which having a BS in Biological Science I thought she might just assume we all knew what she did and she doesn’t. In fact its Skloot’s personal obsession with discovering who this woman was as well as her medical knowledge that adds a certain human something to this novel and that certain something is passion and it’s contagious.

Skloot has spent with those who knew Henrietta while she was alive and most importantly her descendants and in particular her daughter Deborah who didn’t know her mother as she was very small when she died but desperately wants to know all Skloot can find out about her. You are soon drawn into a vivid world of just what it was like for the tobacco farmers in Virginia in the early 1920’s onwards and the true, and quite unbelievable, story of one particular young woman and the family she left behind. What becomes even more shocking to the reader is not only that Henrietta had no idea what her cells would have done in the world after she had departed it but also that despite all these cells have done her family have made nothing from it, whilst companies have made millions, and can barely afford their own healthcare.  

You see there is so much in this book that it’s really, really hard to do it justice in any kind of way. It’s book that will open your eyes to some of the most important times in modern science, the not that distant injustice of racial segregation was till going on (Henrietta was on a coloured only ward) and a real life family drama that you couldn’t possibly believe isn’t fiction, but its all very real and makes for an incredibly emotional and utterly brilliant book. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s definitely one of my books of the year, if not the book of the year so far for me. It’s emotional, angering, thought provoking and mind expanding, its also incredibly readable and an important book too. Read it! 10/10

I don’t want to say anymore than that (though I could go on and on) so I won’t. Well, I will repeat that last sentence… Read it, you really need to.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Macmillan Publishers, Rebecca Skloot, Review

Books of the Future & Books of the Now

On Monday night I was lucky enough to get to have a wander behind the scenes at one of the UK’s big publishing houses. The kindly souls at Picador and Pan Macmillan has asked if I would attend (I dragged Novel Insights along with me) an evening in their new offices to listen to some of their authors reading. Baring you all in mind, as I always do, I made sure I got a cheeky snapshot of their fabulous book filled reception. I cannot tell you how hard it was not to get on that ladder and fill my man bag, I managed, I know not how.

As I mentioned we were there to have a listen to some authors who were; John Butler, Stuart Evers (who you may know from The Guardian, Twitter etc), Sunjeev Sahota and Naomi Wood. Now if you haven’t heard of these authors that might be because they are new authors, in fact I think all of these were debut novels/collections (I could be wrong), and also their books aren’t actually out until 2011.

I can say they all sounded rather exciting John Butlers being the adventures of a young man in San Francisco in the 1980’s – his reading made us all laugh, Stuart Evers debut collection looks to be a gem if the one tale  ‘What’s in Swindon’ is anything to go by. Sunjeev Sahota’s tale ‘Ours Are The Streets’ sounds like it could be quite a hard hitting yet very funny novel, plus he additionally won me over being from my homeland of Derbyshire. Naomi Woods novel then went and won both Polly and I over being set in Newcastle (where we went to school together) in an England we don’t recognise because it’s based on and England of extreme secularism. Sadly they weren’t all in print or proof stage but I did manage to smuggle two of them away which at the end of an evening of bookish chatter and wine was perfection…

Oh yes you may notice I have included a copy of ‘Caribou Island’ by David Vann (I did so like ‘Legend of a Suicide’) in the picture and that’s because it sparked my first mini theme in today’s post… books of the future, in this case books of 2011 specifically. I am hopeless at knowing what is coming out (I seem to have come off lots of publishers catalogue mail outs sadly) in the future, although 2011 is only actually 3 months away, so I wondered if there were any titles that you have started to get really excited about coming next year? I haven’t really got a buzz for any apart from the ones above.

I thought I would use this as an excuse to mention some books of NOW in the meantime as some lovely parcels have been popping through the letter box in the last fortnight or so and I love your thoughts on these loots so I thought I would share them with you. (Sorry for the picture quality, its dreary in London and my iPhone has no flash, I will try and do another anon.) Anyway I have had;

  • The Agatha Raisin Companion – which is perfect for me and came along with…
  • Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body by M.C. Beaton – this will be being read at Christmas as its got a Christmas setting, only I won’t be in the snow I will be in Copacabana, but where better to be resting with Agatha on the hunt for a murderer?
  • A Diary of The Lady by Rachel Johnson – When this arrived I was initially not sure what Penguin were trying to say by sending this (he says with two Agatha Raisin books above). However I was discussing this with Kimbofo when we went out on Thursday night and she said she thought it sounded like it could be really good. I then tried twenty pages and though the word ‘smug’ seems to be in my mind at the mo I am strangely addicted. It’s a great bathroom book, you know you can pick it up and pop it down at intervals. Erm, anyway, moving swiftly on…
  • Nourishment by Gerard Woodward – I actually won this in the Picador event raffle which left me feeling a bit smug as it was the one book (apart from the new Brett Easton Ellis) that I really, really wanted to walk away with. It’s set in the war and tells a very different tale of a husband and wife as the husband wants dirty letters, sounds brilliantly unique. I will be reading this soon.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Many of you have said this is the best non fiction you have read in some time, it’s the tale of Henrietta Lacks and how unwittingly her cancerous cells were used by scientists and have made massive advancements in science and yet no credit has gone to her or any of the money made from this to her family. Funnily enough Picador/Pan Macmillan publish it so a massive small hint was dropped. I think I am going to be hooked by this and possibly outraged too.
  • Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – the autobiography of the youngest Mitford Sister, I need say no more. I will be reading that next after book group Nevil Shute choice.
  • Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie – I had a lovely email from the publishers of this after Justine had apparently told them she read this blog and would like me to read it if I wanted to.
  • Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi – I know nothing about this book, do any of you?
  • Air & Was by Geoff Ryman – Very excited about both of these, in particular Was which is another book I want to start instantly… but I can’t and nor can I read all the books I want to at once, its most vexing.
  • The Country Diaries edited by Alan Taylor – I have seen this around the blogosphere and been very intrigued by it (I use the word intrigued so much but it’s genuinely how I feel), this could be another bathroom book. You all know what I mean by a bathroom/toilet book don’t you? I’m not being rude or trying to offend in case anyone thinks I am being crass.

So what are you reading at the moment? What books have you got your eyes on? What books have you been bought/borrowed/found/treated yourself to recently? Are you already anticipating a book that’s coming out in 2011? What are you up to this weekend?

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