what I read and saw in January 2011

Books

3. The False Friend, by Myla Goldberg. This is the first book I’ve read on my new e-reader, the Nook! And the book was borrowed from the library, no less! A thirtysomething woman suddenly recalls a repressed memory that – twenty years before – she abandoned her friend when she fell in the woods and told everyone the friend had gotten into a car with a stranger. She returns home to come clean, but things don’t go as planned. It didn’t draw me in for the first third, but the portrayal of how mean kids can be to each other, and how memory can trick you up was worthy; and I like Goldberg’s writing. [Note on content: a little language, limited sexual content] 6/10

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (audiobook) – In the 1950s, the cancer cells of African American Henrietta Lacks were taken for study without permission during treatment. The cells turned out to be immortal (survived indefinitely in culture), which allowed for a lot of research not previously possible, leading to the development of the polio vaccine, cancer treatments, and other advances. The book interweaves four narratives: (1) the story of Henrietta Lacks, (2) the evolution of informed consent and medical ethics, (3) the history of research on the cells and the developments associated, and (4) the story of the author’s interactions with the family in writing the book. Fascinating tale, and a nice balance across the narratives (until the last part, where the emphasis tilts too much towards (4) for narrative balance. That said, understanding how the author received the story is really important to understanding the story that I am reading.

In the afterword, Skloot brings up lots of important questions about consent and profit from tissue research, exploring possibilities without drawing a conclusion. Highly recommended. [Note on content: Some strong language and some tough themes, but it's worth it.] 8/10

1. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins (narrated by Carolyn McCormick) – Last book in the dystopian future Hunger Games series. I read it last month and now listened to it, audio comfort food in the course of lots of travel and housework. Really enjoyed the whole series, especially the first and last books. [NOC: Violence] 7/10

Movies

6. When in Rome (DVD – dubbed into Spanish) – Although I am happy to see Kristen Bell, Will Arnett, and Jon Heder in work, this was aggressively bad. 3/10

5. Tied for best of the month – Easy A (DVD) – Teen update of The Scarlet Letter. I really enjoyed it, especially Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the awesomest parents ever. Stanley Tucci stole every scene he was in. Note 1: I’m a sucker for teen updates of classics, like Ten Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew), Clueless (Emma), She’s The Man (Twelfth Night) – oh, and Amanda Bynes appears in this as well, etc. Note 2: It’s PG-13 but not all persons I know would be comfortable with all the content, so Consider Yourselves Warned. 8/10

4. Tied for best of the month – The Social Network (plane) – Great movie about the origin of Facebook. 8/10

3. Tron Legacy: 3D (theater) – Okay. Not great. Several parts incomprehensible. 5/10

2. Abre los ojos (streaming on Hulu) – This is the movie that Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz remade as Vanilla Sky. Excellent mind-bender. 7/10

1. The Karate Kid (the new one) (DVD) – Welcome in the new year with a nice bit of fluff. Still really enjoyed it, but the old one holds a slight edge. I mean, Who can argue with the Cobrai Kai? "Strike Hard, Strike First, No Mercy Sir." 6/10

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