I rely on my small town library for reading material, so I will try to offer recommendations on recently published books when I can. Sometimes though, I will offer blurbs of books you might have missed. Here are three non-fiction works I enjoyed reading.
1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A journalist traces the history of a line of cells used in almost every category of scientific cell research back to one poor African American woman, Henrietta Lacks, a mother of five children, who died of cancer in the 1950s. The cells taken from her cancerous tumor (without her knowledge or consent) provided a breakthrough in modern medicine. The story is simply amazing, and it addresses questions of medical research and ethics, as well as patient’s and family’s rights. Most of the book reads almost like a science fiction novel, yet at times gets bogged down in the scientific realm (for me, anyway). Overall, it is an incredible story and amazing journalistic work.
2. Empire of the Summer Moon: I grew up in Quanah, Texas, a small town on the edge of the Texas Panhandle with the namesake of this last great Comanche chief. Indian folklore surrounded my entire childhood. Every elementary student in our hometown could recite the specifics of the Quanah Parker story. Reading this new account, however, brought a holistic outlook on the story for me. The author traces the roots of Comanche culture and tradition, and he outlines the struggle of the Amercian government and its armed forces to tame and conquer this warring tribe in order to pave the way for the American pioneers, struggling to make a life for themselves in the West. Respectful of both sides yet not sympathetic, the author offers no apologies to this part of American history. The book offers the graphic and whole truth regarding the war between American soldiers and settlers and the Comanche, and it holds up one man, Quanah Parker, who leads his people to peace through his optimism.
3. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto: Michael Pollan urges his readers to get back to the basics of eating and nutrition: Eat food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. However, as his book proves, this is not as easy as it may seem for the American consumer. I first heard of Micheal Pollan when he was guest on NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” and I was immediately intrigued by what he had to offer. He’s not telling Americans to go on a diet. He’s not a scientist. He’s a journalist, and he’s not buying what the food industry is trying to sell. He traces the history of the Western diet and urges his readers back to common sense by postulating that food is “more than the sum of its nutritive parts.” He offers simple ideas to know how to eat healthily. He encourages eating locally (“shaking the hand that feeds you”), buying packaged food with few ingredients, avoiding the center aisles of the grocery store – where all the packaged stuff is, staying away from foods which make claims or advertisements, avoiding high fructose corn syrup, etc. I also like how he promotes eating as a culturally healthy thing to do. Eat with friends, enjoy your food. Eat meals as a family, and enjoy the communal experience of preparing and eating a meal.