These bagatelles offer glittering diversion but little of lasting worth.

LOOSE DIAMONDS

...AND OTHER THINGS I'VE LOST (AND FOUND) ALONG THE WAY

Sex and the City meets Erma Bombeck in this gossamer gathering of recollections from novelist Ephron (One Sunday Morning, 2005, etc.).

True to its title, the book flaunts the glimmers of memory that the author haphazardly crafts into vignettes detailing her bohemian-chic adventures in Los Angeles and New York—with an emphasis on the chic. Starting off as a wild child in the 1970s, she recounts swilling champagne with glamorous friends, buying couture from Saks Fifth Avenue and interviewing Manson Family member Squeaky Fromme at the Spahn Ranch. Ephron’s most entertaining anecdotes date from this era, as she name-drops celebrity friends and shines a light on the inner workings of the National Lampoon during its heady countercultural years. Less sparkling are her attempts to frame her contemporary life with her second husband and five children as a Beverly Hills version of Cheaper by the Dozen. Readers may find it difficult to conjure much empathy for a woman who disparages Elizabeth Taylor’s gigantic diamond ring as extravagant, but laments the theft of her own baubles fashioned by the likes of Tiffany, Cartier and Elsa Peretti. This theft, one of several that hit the Los Angeles area, understandably shook up the author, and the event functions as a sort of connecting thread for the collection. However, even when commenting on the serial burglar’s habit of creating a different persona for each house, she fails to delve further. Accounts of the hostile mothers at her son’s private school similarly fail to engage. While Ephron has enough of a sense of humor to keep these pieces from completely lacking in self-awareness, her writing too often skims the surface, even for comic musings. Likewise, the more somber essays addressing her mother’s depression and Ephron’s own experience with date rape are meandering and unfocused.

These bagatelles offer glittering diversion but little of lasting worth.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-195874-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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