A sometimes-illuminating exploration of herbs interlaced with memoir.

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PLANT SONGS

Baker combines a personal essay with plant lore to explore the healing power of nature in this debut herbal-medicine guide.

The author—an herbalist, acupuncturist, and world traveler who works with PTSD sufferers—asserts that people who interact with plants can achieve a healthier, more peaceful state than those who don’t. “Plants miss the deep connection that humans once had with them,” Baker writes. “They know our mental and physical illnesses are due to that loss of relationship.” To highlight this relationship, she interweaves accounts of her life with profiles of various plants, combining reflection, description, recipes, and the “song” of each species in the form of a very short poem. The entry for nettle, for instance, begins with the herb’s properties (such as prickliness) and effects (“The vigor you experience from an infusion of freshly harvested nettle is like that of Popeye with his spinach”). Baker then recounts a trip to Nepal that she spent “trying to score as much hash as I could” and hiking in the Annapurna Mountains. There, she encountered a massive nettle plant that, she claims, said, “Pay attention. You know what you need to do.” She then discusses the traditional uses of nettle, reveals its song (“Pay attention / Heed the call”), and offers recipes for nettle tea and juice. Throughout this book, Baker offers spiritualism-tinged views of plants that frequently drift into the realms of the animistic and unprovable. However, her stories do possess an appealing mixture of mysticism and earthy relatability, and her knowledge of plants and their lore is undeniably deep. She shares compelling beliefs about and uses for plants that readers will find, by turns, familiar (pine), exotic (Reishi mushroom), and even widely maligned (tobacco). Readers who are interested in either the practical or the romantic side of plants will both find engaging material to read in this essayistic compendium.

A sometimes-illuminating exploration of herbs interlaced with memoir.

Pub Date: Dec. 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5043-9357-7

Page Count: 168

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2018

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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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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