Alexander’s love affair with French, he concludes in this wry and warmhearted memoir, has reaped unexpected rewards.

FLIRTING WITH FRENCH

HOW A LANGUAGE CHARMED ME, SEDUCED ME, AND NEARLY BROKE MY HEART

A charming memoir by a passionate Francophile.

At the age of 57, Alexander (52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust, 2010, etc.) decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of learning French—the first step, he thought, to transforming himself into a Frenchman. “I have such an inexplicable affinity for all things French that I wonder if I was French in a former life,” he writes. Even though many second-language researchers believe that after adolescence, few students “will ever achieve near-native proficiency in a foreign language,” Alexander was determined to try. His 13-month marathon of language learning included five levels of Rosetta Stone, two Pimsleur audio courses, hundreds of podcasts, all 52 TV episodes of French in Action, two immersion classes (one, in France, lasting two weeks), reading dual-language books, watching TV5Monde, emailing with a French pen pal and Skyping with another. The author also studied the history of the language, its unfathomable assignment of gender to nouns, and some curious idioms, and he considers how vocabulary reflects social assumptions: Why, he wonders, is there a word for husband but not for wife? For son but not for daughter? After all his efforts, he realizes that he has learned “a lot of French,” but “I have not learned French. And that is a major distinction.” But he did make significant progress: At the beginning of his project, he had an MRI to determine his brain’s activity when listening to French or Japanese, which he knows not at all. A year later, his scans show markedly more activity when hearing French, and he scored higher on a college entrance exam, too. But most exciting was his vast improvement on a cognitive assessment test. “Studying French,” he announces joyfully, “has been like drinking from a mental fountain of youth!

Alexander’s love affair with French, he concludes in this wry and warmhearted memoir, has reaped unexpected rewards.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61620-020-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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