Between the Lines Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

between the lines book club logoTomorrow (April 27) we’ll be meeting at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM to discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

The Immortal Life is about real people. Rebecca Skloot worked closely with the Lacks family in writing the book. Knowing about their mother’s cells has had a major impact on the family. Where are they now?

The family is currently engaged in an argument regarding the recent HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne. Some members of the family are happy with their current situation. Many of them give public speeches, for which they are paid, and others have benefited from the Henrietta Lacks Foundation. Five family members were hired as consultants for HBO during the making of the movie.

However, other members of the family have never been happy with the way things turned out financially after the book because a hit. Among them are Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta Lack’s son, and Lawrence’s son, Ron. They feel that they have been treated unfairly and that the movie paints the family in a negative light. Lawrence and Ron plan to take legal action. As of this date, the issue is up in the air.

You can read more about the feud at The Washington Post or the Baltimore Sun.

Sadly, Deborah Lacks died of a heart attack in 2009.






Between the Lines Book Club: All About Cells

between the lines book club logoThis month we’ve been reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This story explains the importance of HeLa cells – ones which reproduce and survive seemingly endlessly from a single source. We’ll be discussing this book at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30 AM on April 28, 2018.

Here are ten triva facts about cells:

  1. Every living thing is made of cells.
  2. Every cell in the human body contains six to eight feet of DNA.
  3. The largest cell is an ostrich egg. The largest cell in the human body is egg cell (ovum). Other contenders for the title are giant squid nerve cells and some kinds of algae.
  4. The smallest cell is Mycoplasma genitaliumm a bacterium that causes sexually transmitted diseases in humans and increases their risk of getting HIV.
  5. There are more bacterial cells in the human body than there are human cells.
  6. The study of cells became possible with the invention of the microscope.
  7. Scientists guess that the human body contains about 37.2 trillion cells, but no one knows for sure.
  8. Microphages are a kind of cell that attacks foreign material. When you get a tattoo, microphages eat the ink, but they can’t break it down. Over time, those microphages die and new ones eat the leftover ink. So a tattoo is more of a process than a static object.
  9. A single-celled organism called Monocercomonoides is the first eukaryotic cell ever to lack mitochondria.
  10. 10. Getting the flu can cause men to end up (temporarily) with misshapen (but harmless) sperm cells. So…get your flu shots, guys!




Between the Lines Book Club: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

between the lines book club logoOur April Book Club pick is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. I thought this book was amazing when I first read it so I was thrilled that Book Club voted it in. We will be meeting on April 28. at Arden Dimick Library, from 10:30AM – 12.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks combines science with history and biography in an accesible and intersting way. A HeLA cell is a cell taken from a cell line that has been incredibly durable – seemingly immortal. These cells all derive from cells taken from a Black woman, Henrietta Lacks, in 1951. The removal of the cells was done without Lack’s knowledge or permission, and her family has not benefitted

Skloot explains the science of the cells and why they are so important. She also examines the life of the woman the cells came from, and helps surviving members of Lack’s family understand what happened and why. The book was made into a movie of the same title, starring Oprah Winfrey, in 2017.


Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews With James Baldwin

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between The Lines Book Club! This month’s selection is Go Tell It On The Mountain, by James Baldwin. We will meet to discuss the book at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM, on March 24, 2018.

James Baldwin was a powerful speaker and he often gave interviews. If you haven’t read Go Tell It, these interviews will give you a sense of how Baldwin speaks (he has a distinctive literary and speaking cadence) and his views. Here are a few of his interviews and speeches:

Here is a lengthy interview in which Baldwin discusses sexuality

Here he is discussing his return from Europe to New York in 1962 in The Guardian

Here’s an interview from Esquire that was conducted in 1968, shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

And finally, here are five great interviews on video.





Between the Lines Book Club: James Baldwin

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between The Lines Book Club! This month’s selection is Go Tell It On The Mountain, by James Baldwin. We will meet to discuss the book at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM, on March 24, 2018.

James Baldwin was an African-American gay man whose essays and novels tackled race, class, religion, and sexuality. He grew up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and became a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as a deeply influential author.

Baldwin grew up the oldest of eight children. His stepfather was abusive and Baldwin felt that he had to take care of his younger siblings. At 14, Baldwin became a junior minister in the Pentecostal Church. Bible speech and the rhythm of language from the King James Bible influenced his later work. A few years later, he renounced religion entirely.

At 24, Baldwin lift the US for France, where he spent most of the rest of his life. He was part of the Left Bank group, a radical group of artists who questioned cultural norms. In this environment, Baldwin was free to be openly gay and he was free from the systemic, institutionalized racism found in the US. He returned to the US to be a spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement. He and Bayard Rustin faced discrimination within the Civil Rights Movement for being known as gay men. However, Baldwin continued to be part of the Movement

Baldwin’s books include Go Tell It On the Mountain, Fire Next Time, and Giovanni’s Room. He was a friend and mentor to countless artists and activists. His influence on literature cannot be overstated.




Between the Lines Book Club: Go Tell It On The Mountain

between the lines book club logoWe are back with Between The Lines Book Club! This month’s selection is Go Tell It On The Mountain, by James Baldwin. We will meet to discuss the book at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM, on March 24, 2018.

Go Tell It On The Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel, published in 1953. It tells the story of a young Black boy (John) growing up in Harlem, and his family. The Pentacostal Church plays a large role in the book. John struggles with his place in the family, his confusion regarding his sexuality, and his feelings about the church which is both destructive and deeply nourishing to the community.

If you find this book tough going, you might want to check out, a free online study guide. If you want to read something shorter by the same author that addresses the same themes, try Baldwin’s essay “Letter From a Region in My Mind,” which is available at The New Yorker , or any of his other essays. Look for a biblical cadance of speech, as well as discussion of religion, race, and sexual orientation.






Between the Lines Book Club: Redneck Comedy

between the lines book club logoWhen I was a kid, I used to watch the “hillbilly” comedy and variety show “Hee Haw” with my grandma. That show has come and gone, but the last few decades have seen a rise in “Redneck” based comedy, with stars like Larry the Cable Guy, and Bill Evengall. The key point of this comedy is that it is “laughing with,” not “laughing at,” by people who are self-identified rednecks.  As Jeff Foxworthy says, “You can’t laugh at a redneck unless you are one, and I are one.”

Jeff Foxworthy made himself famous with his stand-up comedy routines in the 1980’s and 1990’s. His most famous routines involved his “You might be a redneck” routines.  Here’s one of his stand up routines:


Gretchen Wilson, a country music star, had a big hit with this funny but proud song, “Redneck Woman” in 2004:


Trae Crowder challenges stereotypes as “The Liberal Redneck” with heated political commentary (and a LOT of swearing):


Here’s an extra one, because Trae sure can lay it down:



Etta May, who may or may not be a comic persona created by a Yankee, does stand-up based on her family and her life as a housewife:


And this one made me, a Weight Watchers vet, laugh out loud:

Between the Lines Book Club: White Trash, by Nancy Isenberg

between the lines book club logoOur February Book Club pick is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. We will be meeting to discuss this book at Arden Dimick Library on February 24, 2018 at 10:30 AM.

In White Trash, Isenberg explores the history of class in America from colonial times through the present. she looks at class from a historical lens but also examines it in popular culture, in works such as Deliverance, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Duck Dynasty. Topics explored include eugenics, past and current politics, and the intersections of class and race.

Join us on Feb 24 for what is sure to be a spirited (BUT POLITE) discussion!


Between the Lines Book Club: More Books About Domestic Life

between the lines book club logoTomorrow (January 27, 2018) we’ll be meeting at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM to discuss At Home, by Bill Bryson.

At Home is entertaining, but how accurate is it? Most of the book covers the Victorian Era. Here are some other nonfiction books about domestic life in Victorian (and Edwardian) times. If it’s a book I”ve reviewed, I’ve linked to the review.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese O’Neill

Yes, the Victorians had their hangups, but they had a lot of sex too! I loved this book which was both fun and informative – and made me very happy not to have to wear a crinoline.

How to be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman

Goodman, a historical re-enactor, never takes herself too seriously, but she supplements her well-researched book with anecdotes of her own experience. She also wrote How to be a Tudor.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, by Daniel Pool

As the title suggests, this covers everyday life in the Regency and Victorian periods.

To Marry an English Lord, by Gail McColl and Carol McD. Wallace

Want to know how to marry an English Lord during the Edwardian Era? Here’s a hint – be very, very rich, and know your table manners.


Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews With Bill Bryson

between the lines book club logoThe month we are reading At Home by Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson is a prolific speaker – we had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Sacramento Central Library on one occasion. Here are some interviews with him regarding At Home.

First, a fun Q and A from The Guardian.

Bill Bryson on Colbert Report is a hoot – check out his hybrid American/British accent (he was raised in the USA but has lived in England for many years).

Here he is on the radio program “Here and Now”

Finally, here’s a brief but entertaining interview with The New York Times.

We’ll be meeting to discuss it in person on January 27, 2018 at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM. Join us!


Between the Lines Book Club: At Home by Bill Bryson

between the lines book club logoWelcome back to Between the Lines Book Club. This month we’re reading At Home by Bill Bryson. It’s a long book, but a quick and easy read. We’ll be meeting to discuss it in person on January 27, 2018 at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM.

At Home is a nonfiction history of how and why houses are the way they are. Because of how the book is arranged, it’s easy to either read the book straight through or pick and choose chapters based on interest level. Here’s a quick rundown of the chapters and their topics:

Chapter One: The Year: Describes the year 1851, when the house was built.

Chapter Two: The Setting: The development of agriculture and ancient housing.

Chapter Three: The Hall: Covers the time when The Hall meant the entire interior of a house to the development of separate rooms.

Chapter Four: The Kitchen: Food! The development of ice as a common means of food preservation, mason jars, and cans, and the change in eating habits through the Victorian Era.

Chapter Five: The Scullery and Larder: In which being a servant was just awful.

Chapter Six: The Fuse Box: Life by candlelight, gaslight, and the development of the electric light.

Chapter Seven: The Drawing Room: The invention of comfortable furniture. Also, lots and lots of architecture.

Chapter Eight: The Dining Room: Spices, scurvy, salt, vitamins, coffee, and tea.

Chapter Nine: The Cellar: What was used to build homes in Britain and America, and why? If you have an interest in wood, bricks, stone, or cement, this is the chapter for you.

Chapter Ten: The Passage: The Eiffel Tower, The Gilded Age, the telephone.

Chapter Eleven: The Study: Mice and rats and bedbugs, oh my! Also germs and bats and locusts and lice!

Chapter Twelve: The Garden: Much architecture. The switch from formal to more naturalistic parks. The development of Central Park. The development of gardening as a hobby. The rise of the lawn.

Chapter Thirteen: The Plum Room: In which Bryson discusses Monticello and Mount Vernon.

Chapter Fourteen: The Stairs. Household hazards!

Chapter Fifteen: The Bedroom: Sex, disease, death, and burial.

Chapter Sixteen: The Bathroom: The very smelly history of hygiene.

Chapter Seventeen: The Dressing Room: Fashion!

Chapter Eighteen: The Nursery: Childbirth and child rearing is not for wimps.

Chapter Nineteen: The Attic: Darwin, economics, and the end of the parsonage era.

Enjoy, and feel free to pick and choose!

Between the Lines Book Club: The Fishing Fleet

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj, by Anne de Courcy. We’ll be discussing the book at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on November 18th. Please note that this date is early! Usually Book Club meets on the fourth Saturday of each month, but in November we have it a week earlier to accomodate Thanksgiving travel.

The Fishing Fleet is a nonfiction book about the women who travelled to India from England in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in search of husbands. One of these women was my great-grandaunt. Another, and much earlier, member of the Fishing Fleet was an older relative of Jane Austen’s.

Here are some reviews of the book:

New York Times

The Washington Times

History Today


Between the Lines Book Club: Shameless Self-Promotion

between the lines book club logoTomorrow (October 28, 2017) we will be meeting at Arden Dimick Library to discuss Jane Eyre. Our meeting is at 10:30AM.

Traditionally I bring food, and I plan to bring food tomorrow. But what to bring? Here’s a hilarious list of the awful meals in Jane Eyre from the website “The Toast.”

Back in 2014, I wrote a short eBook called Pride, Prejudice, and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane EyreThis book is available online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iBooks for $0.99.

In the book, I talk about the life stories of the authors, the central themes of the books, and some of the adaptations of the books. I had great fun ranting about the Brontes and their horrible health problems, and breaking down what I see as the most important aspects of Jane Eyre:

  1. Jane maintains her sense of self against all those who disparage her.
  2. During most of the book, Jane is lonely and frustrated by the bonds set on her by society.
  3. Jane has a strong sense of morality and a strong sense of spirituality, which is expressed in both Christian and supernatural terms.
  4. Any adaptation should show that Jane and Rochester have great chemistry and that they are good companions for each other.
  5. Despite their chemistry, there are also very good reasons for Jane to stay away from Rochester.
  6. The point of the story is not that Jane and Rochester get married. The point is that when they get married, Jane marries Rochester as his equal.
  7. Jane Eyre is, among other things, a gothic story, and as such any adaptation should include a sense of menace, mystery, melodrama, and isolation.

Happy viewing, Dear Readers!


Between the Lines Book Club: Biographies and Spin-Offs

between the lines book club logoIt’s link time! Charlotte Bronte was a prickly person who experienced a great deal of loss in her short life. She lived long enough to see Jane Eyre be a success and even enjoyed some literary fame. Here’s a link to my review of Charlotte Bronte, A Fiery Heart, by Clare Harman. You might also enjoy The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, by Diana Lutz (my review is here).

Many people have tried retelling Jane Eyre’s story from the viewpoints of different characters or in different time settings. The most depressing but also influential and challenging of these is Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, who tells the story from Bertha’s perspective and challenges Victorian ideas about gender, race, colonialism, and sexuality. Another popular retelling is The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey, which places the story in the 1950s. Here are links to my reviews of some retellings:

Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre and featuring variety in setting and tone.

Mr. Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker

Mr. Rochester’s story, from childhood through the end of the events of Jane Eyre.

Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye

I loved this book! A Victorian orphan named Jane is inspired by Jane Eyre, with whom she has many life events in common. Jane Steele, however, is capable of using force to defend herself and her friends, which has far reaching consequences.

Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn

A science fiction version which works surprisingly well.

Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

A dark fantasy, one of my favorites.



Between the Lines Book Club: Wuthering Heights Vs Jane Eyre Smack-Down

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books and also a book I’ve done a lot writing about in the past. We’ll be meeting to discuss Jane Eyre at Arden Dimick Library on October 28th, 2017 at 10:30AM.

Today I raise the question: can a person be equally besotted with both Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte? Generally speaking I’ve found that the answer is “No,” but there are exceptions. In this piece written for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I asked readers this question after comparing the two novels. what do you think?