Frank, thoughtful reflections that should resonate with the 47 percent of Americans reported to be living with chronic pain.


Meditative, intimate essays consider the experience of suffering.

At the age of 39, Huber (English/Fairfield Univ.; The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016, etc.) was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, autoimmune diseases that cause severe joint pain, surges of fever, and often loss of mobility. In this collection of essays written during the past five years (some previously published), the author reflects on her struggle to reassess her identity and make sense of affliction from diseases that flare up unpredictably and uncontrollably. She is dismayed by physicians who prefer not to deal with incurable illness because they “have been trained in environments of competition where cures and successes are prized.” She rails against doctors who cynically assume that she is trying to elicit prescriptions for opioids and others who ask her to rate her pain on a scale from one to 10, a rubric that she deems inadequate for expressing and treating pain. More helpful, she has found, is the McGill Pain Questionnaire, which opens with the salient question: “What Does Your Pain Feel Like?” Well-meaning friends who suggested herbal medicines or exercise convinced Huber that the “massive gulf separating the pained from the non-pained can be summed up in one question: ‘Have you tried yoga?’ ” Pain infuses her life: cooking, sex, caring for her son, teaching, and writing—which sometimes, she admits, “has been my only relief.” Her voice as “pain woman,” she discovers, is different from her other writing voices. “She has a kind of messianic confidence that I do not have in my normal writing or even in my normal living,” she writes. “Pain woman” surely gives voice to the feistiest essays in this uneven collection. Although Huber strives for metaphors to express her pain, she does not always succeed, and probing her experiences sometimes results in claustrophobic repetition.

Frank, thoughtful reflections that should resonate with the 47 percent of Americans reported to be living with chronic pain.

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8032-9991-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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


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.


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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