A further selection of quotes and short reviews of books which have been piling up by my bookshelf for weeks, their post-it notes peeking out from lines desperate to be recorded in this blog, flapping languidly at me every time I walked past them…
‘The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks’, Rebecca Skloot
At school, I was terrible at various subjects, from art to science. Since I am now brilliant at reading, I often try to counter those lacunae in my knowledge by reading about topics I know little to nothing about, and this book, on the woman who after her death inadvertently became the source for the majority of cancer research in the USA after her death, was a perfect example.
-50m tonnes of Henrietta Lacks’ cells have been produced in the 60 years since her death.-Treatment in 1951 included a doctor who “…slipped a tube filled with radium inside -Henrietta’s cervix, and sewed it in place.”-Cells were shipped cross-country, as “…pilots or stewards tucked them in heir shirt pockets to keep the cells at body temperature.”-The cells could be grown at home following instructions from a magazine article.-They also went up into orbit with the first human spaceflight.
“…wrongly believed that light could kill cell cultures, so his laboratory looked like the photo negative of a Ku Klux Klan rally, where technicians worked in long black robes, heads covered in black hoods with small slits cut for their eyes…”
“… in 1953, a geneticist in Texas accidentally mixed the wrong liquid with HeLa and a few other cells, and it turned out to be a fortunate mistake. The chromosomes inside the cells swelled and spread out, and for the first time, scientists could see each of them clearly…”
“You don’t act strange around me cause I’m Black. You’re not from around here.”
Going back in time, the social standing of her family is best summed up by this paragraph, describing the way her husband raised her children after her death from cancer:
“Henrietta’s children grew up hungry…She put latches and bolts on the refrigerator and cupboards doors to keep the children out between meals. They weren’t allowed ice in their water because it made noise…”
“He caused near-pandemonium when he appeared in a BBC documentary saying that the eggs of man and ape could now be joined to create a ‘mape’…'”
“To discourage slaves from meeting or escaping, slave owners told tales of gruesome research done on black bodies, then covered themselves in white sheets and creeped around at night, posing as spirits coming to infect black people with disease or steal them for research…”
“Science is not the highest value in society…I decide who gets my money after I die. It wouldnt harm me if I died and you gave my money to someone else… But replace the word money in that sentence with tissue, and you’ve got precisely the logic many people used to argue against giving donors any control over that tissue.”
“12 times more British people have died from smoking then died in World War II…”.“By the time we reach the age of 66, most of us will have seen approximately 2,000,000 television commercials. Time-wise, that’s the equivalent of watching eight hours of ads seven days a week for six years straight…”.
“In families with predictable routines, children had fewer respiratory illnesses and better overall health, and they performed better in elementary school…”.
“Today more than 22,000 different colored Hello Kitty products are in circulation in Asia and throughout the world, including Hello Kitty pasta, Hello Kitty condoms, Hello Kitty navel rings, and Hello Kitty tooth caps, which (talk about branding) actually leave behind a Hello Kitty impression on every piece of food you chew…”.
“A Bang and Olufsen remote control, for example, would weigh perhaps half of what it does if it wasn’t stuffed with a completely useless wad of aluminum to make customers believe they’re holding something substantial, sturdy, and worthy of the high price…”
“What about Duracell’s intriguing idea to design batteries shaped like bullets?… research showed that when men who replaced the normal batteries in their flashlights (a process which felt not unlike loading a gun) with the heavy bullet shaped ones were asked whether they thought the new batteries were more powerful than traditional ones, every single man answered yes…”.
“Nothing is more frightening than no rules; people will cherish the worst rules as long as they can avoid the prospect of a sky that spits in their face for no reason…”
“…Indeed, waitress-tormenting is one of the most despicable crimes; it is usually committed in the more expensive restaurants, but here Hayless is getting it for under a pound…”
“…A teacher of English to foreign students: even worse. Someone whose only employable trait is having been born in a country where the language happens to be in demand”
“The condemned man about to go out to the gallows doesn’t want to hear that everything’s old well-oiled…What we need is better lies…”
“The production team had overridden the objections of researchers who had advised against mixing the Muppets with humans on the street. The scientists preferred there be a line between fantasy and reality…”.
“One man, presumably an educator…asked her what he was supposed to do with his lesson plans if children started coming to school already knowing letters and numbers…”.
“…the part of a chicken should only be played by a chicken.”It was subsequently suggested that they “…air the piece as written and see how much mail we get from outraged chickens…”.