Saturday, August 27, 2011

Limitless by Alan Glynn

This was originally titled The Dark Fields but was re-titled and re-covered with the movie stuff, which is a pet peeve.

I think I can sum this book up in one sentence: Kids, drugs are bad for you.

Actually, this was a pretty good book and I would even admit to wanting to try out the MDT-48 drug, if only to have a clean house and a banging career. But without the nasty side effects. Eddie Spinola is a massively down on his luck copywriter in New York. He ends up running into his ex brother-in-law on the street and is offered a little pill, the MDT-48, that Vernon swears will help Eddie out with all his problems. Apparently being a former drug addict makes it easy for people to just swallow random pills to see what happens. Which Eddie does and becomes hyper alert and scary smart.

Vernon is murdered and Eddie steals the rest of the MDT-48 stash from his apartment and proceeds to become a junkie all over again, albeit a wealthy, brilliant, stockbroker junkie. We know how this ends, everything has to come crashing down. And crash down it does, in a rather magnificent way.

Withdrawal from MDT-48 means death, so there's no illusions as to Eddie's fate. But perhaps the creepiest part of this story is when Eddie sees the the President of the United States on TV and sees the "alert, gorged MDT expression in his eyes". Well, we're all freaking doomed then.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I hope it keeps fairly well to the book but clears up some of Eddie's boneheaded decisions because for someone supersmart, he really is a moron sometimes.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Highly recommend everyone to read this book. I listened to it on audiobook (12+ hours) and it drew me in each time.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman born in Virginia who unknowingly gave her cancer cells to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Back in the '50s it wasn't necessary, or even thought of, to ask patients for tissue samples for research. It was just done. When Lacks went to Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer treatments, the doctors took samples of the tumors and sent them to George Gey to work with. Gey had been trying to find ways to get human cells to live in a lab, with very little success. Lacks' cells turned the tide (and became known as HeLa cells) and are still living today.

This book has 2 sides: the good that the HeLa cells have done (the polio vaccine to name one very important discovery) and the Lacks family, who didn't know that their mother/wife had cells taken from her without anyone's permission. The Lacks family never received any money or any information about the HeLa cells and Skloot was determined to get the story out.

The whole research issue is an interesting one. The book brought up the case of John Moore, who found that his tissue was being used in research that would net the doctor a lot of money. He sued and was told he had no rights to his tissues and therefore could get nothing from it. This is based on the fact that millions of people, every day, leave behind tissue and cells at hospitals and doctor's offices and that tissue is what helps science proceed. As someone who has left behind a colon, thyroid and who knows what else after leaving a hospital, this amazes me. I always assumed tissue was incinerated but that happens rarely. Mostly it's stored and/or used in scientific research.

This is truly an amazing book and it's spurred me into looking at tissue research a little more in depth.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

I'm slowly trucking along with this series and am pretty happy that book two is done before the 2nd season of Game of Thrones starts. Once again, this is an old book so these aren't spoilers....

But I'll still give you time to go away.....

The beginning of this was....not boring, but maybe a tad slow for my tastes. Once I got midway through, things started picking up so fast I was forced to forgo my laundry and just sit and read to finish the book last night. Dany's story arc didn't do much for me, so I'll not talk about it.

Great battles are brewing as everyone and their brother (literally) are proclaiming themselves King. Everyone and their brother still hates King Joffrey and who can blame them. Tyrion is now dispatched to Joffrey's side as Hand of the King (formerly occupied by Ned Stark - he of no head). I have to admit that I am fully rooting for Tyrion at this point. Wits and brains are incredibly more impressive than brawn. It got him pretty far in this book, but notably, at the end of the book, Tyrion, fights in battle. Brave little man, whose men turned against him and tried to kill him.

Arya is another favorite. She is Ned's daughter who managed to escape King's Landing before it was shut down. Yoren, of the Night Watch, was trying to get her out of town to the Wall. Unfortunately, bad stuff happens and Yoren dies, leaving Arya and a few buddies to fend for themselves...and get captured and sent to Harrenhal as slaves. Spunky little girl ends up kicking some ass and escaping again.

Winterfell falls to Theon Greyjoy (who stupidly feels up his own sister without realizing who she is). Then falls again to Ramsay Snow of the Bolton house. Bran and Rickon are thought dead by everyone but turns out they're not. Which is good. Sansa is no longer Joffrey's betrothed but still a hostage at King's Landing and hello, is Cersei just really crazy?? Yes, I think so. Incest will do that to you.

Stannis mounts a battle against his brother Renly for the rightful title of King but Renly is killed by a "shadow" (this is where my distaste for fantasy stuff comes in) so Stannis tries against King's Landing only to have to pull back in defeat. There's another case of killer shadows coming from the crotch of the sorceress Melisandre. Sorry, but give me a break.

So we're left with plot lines moved forward, but quite a bit in most cases. People dead, some we actually liked. People gravely wounded and some just gone into the ether of "read the next book" fog.

And now I shall read the next book.

Monday, August 1, 2011

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

I don't know why but I've never liked Utopian stories, they always severely rub me the wrong way. This little book is only 166 pages, and Utopian/hippie vibe aside, was pretty charming. On the surface it seems like a communal, hippie place where the narrator (no name given) goes about his days "writing" (or planting seeds, napping and walking) but the story ends up going deeper into human nature. Love and betrayal. And lots of whiskey and trout. With singing tigers.

Even for the far out, probably pot-induced, setting, everything comes back down to human nature and our wonderful ability to really hurt the people around us.

Utopia will never work as long as people are involved. Maybe that's my problem with it.