One of the reasons I really love reading through lists of books is to reach outside of my normal reading patterns and pick up a book that I would have completely overlooked. This year I have been fortunate to discover a lot of amazing books and read from a variety of perspectives. There is nothing about Unbroken that would have compelled me to read it. I am not a huge fan of war stories or even history stories. I would have completely passed by this book, but I am so glad that I didn't. Unbroken is a complete biography of Louis Zamperini starting at his youth, his brief Olympic career, his time in World War II, and his transition back from the War. While the majority of the book focuses on WWII the part that I enjoyed most about the book is that it was more than a war story. It was a story about people, mostly Louis Zamperini, but also his family, his war buddies, the Japanese soldiers and civilians, and his wife. Reading this book I felt like I was transported to a whole different world. Most of the time the world was extremely unpleasant, yet despite that you persevered right along with Louis and the other prisoners of war.
Louis Zamperini was the trouble maker kid, the town juvenile delinquent. With the help of his older brother, he tamed that spirit to become an Olympic runner. If his life had led down a different path he would probably be known as an Olympic gold medalist. Instead, he is known as the man who's Olympic story ended in war. Yet he used his spirit to survive what was unsurvivable to so many. Then, after the war when he could have been broken again, he started to thrive and to make a better world for all the other juvenile delinquent boys who have the capacity to accomplish so much.
Laura Hillenbrand wrote in such a way that you were brought into the world. The story would continually branch off of Louis and the reader would learn about his brother, his war buddies, his captors, the friendly guard. If it was done with less skill this could have been a distraction while reading, yet the story continued to flow and the reader is left feeling more complete for having known about not just Louis, but the wide assortment of people that came into his time.
Earlier in the year I picked up a book because there was a character who seemed to be so much like me. I was dispirited because she was nothing like me, and because the book turned out to not have much depth.
When I started reading Educated I found a character who had a childhood that was more similar to mine than anyone I had ever met. Reading about her family struggles, and her choices, was less triggering and more liberating. It takes courage to be able to speak about the unspeakable. It takes talent to be able to transcribe the emotions and experiences in a way that would engage her readers rather than alienate them.
I do not think the writing was technically perfect at all times. I think there was some choices in using time that was not the most effective, and there was some times that I wished the writing was a little more polished. Yet, these instances were small and were pale compared to the actual overall work.
I would be interested in a follow up memoir, one less focused on her childhood and more focused on her adulthood. I feel like Westover has a lot more left to say, and I would first in line to read it.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is almost three different stories that are highly interconnected until they are woven into one cohesive book.
The first story is almost a memoir of the author Rebecca Skloot. She is very much present in the book as most of the present day stories are narrated as her experiences. The experiences may be about her interactions with the Lacks' family but you will finish the book with a connection to the author as much as to the subject of the book.
The second story is the history of the HeLa cells that were harvested from Henrietta Lacks and were grown to finance an entire medical field. These cells have done more for medical history than perhaps anything else. The story is a record of that history. This record is written in a way that is gripping and understandable to individuals who do not have a medical background. Yet it is engaging and through enough to be of interest to even those who have worked directly with these cells.
The third story is a story of Henrietta Lacks and her family. This is a story of a rural African American female whose parents were slaves. It is the story of her daughter Deborah who lacked formal education yet educated herself of anything to do with her mother's cells. When she didn't understand something she would work until she at least had a concept of the idea. The story is about how her family was wronged by the medical community that made millions off her mother's cells yet left her family in poverty. It is the story of how she strived for better for the future Lacks children.
The first two stories were highly fascinating. It is the third story that left the biggest impression as I read this book. I have read about the civil rights movement and accounts of desegregation. No other book put the chronology as clearly in my mind. Rebecca Skloot, who was alive during the early 2000s was the granddaughter of slaves. Within her life she was denied basic human rights. Reading about this family put it into perspective for me better than memorizing dates from any history class had. I wish this book was required reading for everyone.
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