Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’
Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper
You guys know I’m a sucker for a good animal story (see here and here). I finished another good animal book recently and it’s on my list of to-do list of blog posts, but I was so excited about this one that I had to share it now!
“Homer’s Odyssey” is about a young woman named Gwen with a love for cats. She already has two, Scarlett and Vashti, when her vet calls asking if she’d be interested in adopting a little blind kitten that no one else wants. After Gwen meets the little guy, she knows right away that he is special and has to take him home. Homer, as she names him, had to have both eyes removed when he was several weeks old. Like a human, his other senses are heightened to make up for his loss of sight. Gwen worries about Homer in her house that she shares with a friend and also with her two other cats. Homer quickly proves that he’s up to the challenge and adjusts with ease and makes himself comfortable quickly.
Homer is also extremely affectionate toward not only Gwen, but anyone who shows him attention and wants to be his friend. He relies heavily on Gwen to help translate his many different meows and to introduce him properly to a new person. He is like any other cat – he loves to play, attack the other cats, and snuggle – and is extremely loyal and saves Gwen’s life in one situation. Gwen tells story after story about funny things that Homer did that will make you think of your own cats and wish that you were the parent of a blind cat. Seriously, I thought to myself multiple times how much I wanted to go out and adopt a blind cat. You’ll understand why when you read the book.
Spoiler (in a good way, I’d hope): this story does not have a sad ending. Yay! Of course, there are some sad parts, but Homer is still going strong today. This book was an emotional roller coaster for me. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next minute I was crying. Even though I loved the book about Dewey, the library cat, Homer’s story tops it. He has such personality and it’s amazing to hear how he lives his life even though he can’t actually see the world around him… he adapts. It helps that his mother, Gwen Cooper, is a great writer and can tell the story in a way that makes you fall in love with Homer, just like everyone else who has ever met him.
My recommendation: if you love cats (the TV theme song to “Must Love Cats” just popped into my head – go watch that too if you get Animal Planet! John Fulton is the man.), you must go read this book. I love love loved it and I hope you will too.
Back before the holidays, I asked my friends on Twitter for book recommendations. I wanted something new to read over the holidays when we were doing some traveling. Someone recommended this book. It wasn’t my first choice (I wanted something more light and fun) and I didn’t download it right away, but when I did, I was hooked and didn’t want to put my Kindle down.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is about Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five living in the Baltimore area in the 1950′s. Henrietta started to get sick with numerous symptoms when she was in her late 20′s. She was sent to the hospital nearest to her, Johns Hopkins. It turned out that Henrietta had cervical cancer and passed away from her cancer, which quickly spread throughout her body, at the age of 30. During her treatments (which made me really glad I didn’t live in the 1950′s – some of the cancer treatments just sounded horrible), her doctors removed cells from her cervix. Those cells have, in a way, made Henrietta live forever.
Henrietta’s cells were found to be very unique, like no one had ever seen before. They quickly multiplied and didn’t die like other cells did. These cells, named HeLa, were “breeded” and in the past 60 years, have been distributed across the world and have been used in some of the world’s most groundbreaking medical research. Her cells are still alive today.
This book is not all about science. Author Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta through her family that is still living. Skloot spends years tracking down family members, doctors, and others who know about Henrietta and the HeLa cells, but Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, is the one that Skloot forms the closest relationship with, although it is a rocky relationship. Skloot reveals how the family didn’t know for years that Henrietta’s cells were special and being sold and they were hurt and upset and felt entitled to some of the profits, especially since her family was struggling financially.
The story was told in such a way that Henrietta’s story, her family’s stories, and the science of the cells was interwoven, which kept my attention. I’m not really a science person, but the scientific parts were explained in a way that was easy to understand and kinda made me want to learn more about the topic outside of this book. Skloot even touches on the debate about whose property human cells are – the “donator”, or the hospital/doctor/researcher. I’ve never thought about that issue before and it makes you think more about what happens when your blood is taken or if you get a biopsy or some other procedure. The personal struggles of Henrietta and her family also were very interesting and sad.
Rebecca Skloot does a great job of pulling all of her research together to tell this story. And I just also have to say how surprised I was when I saw she was from Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh was mentioned a few other times throughout the book; the doctor who discovered HeLa’s immortality was originally from Pittsburgh as well. ”The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has been named to a bunch of different “Best Books” lists and I think it totally deserves it. I’d have to say this was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
I know today is Christmas, but I wish you a happy whichever holiday you celebrate this time of year. I’ve been waiting for this time of year to come because there’s one book I really really wanted to blog about! I was traveling to visit family and didn’t get a chance to write this post before I left, so I apologize if it’s a little late.
Festivus. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a HUGE “Seinfeld” fan (I watch the repeats three times per day. My favorite episode is “The Chicken Roaster“.). Each year on December 23rd, I look forward to watching the episode “The Strike” (even though they didn’t show it last year!). One of the storylines in this episode is about a holiday called Festivus that George’s father made up when George was a boy after getting into a fight over a doll that he was trying to buy for George for Christmas. He decided to rebel against tradition and start his own holiday, “a Festivus for the rest of us!” It involves an aluminum pole instead of a tree (“I find tinsel distracting.”); the “airing of grievances” to your family, telling them all the ways they’ve disappointed you in the past year; and the “feats of strength”, where a chosen family member wrestles the head of household in an attempt to pin him/her.
Last holiday season near Festivus, I discovered that there was actually a book called “Festivus: A Holiday for the Rest of Us” by Allen Salkin. I had to order it right away. Basically, the book explains where Festivus actually came from (spoiler alert: it wasn’t made up just for “Seinfeld”!) and how to properly carry on a Festivus celebration. The book is quite funny and gives examples of real Festivus celebrations. If I had more friends that were huge “Seinfeld” fanatics like me, maybe I’d start my own yearly Festivus celebration. It’s a lighthearted look at the anti-holiday made famous by the show and you learn some interesting tidbits along the way. There were some additional Festivus traditions that I was not aware of that the book details as well.
Oh – and for your holiday gift, I made a donation on behalf of my readers to the Human Fund. You’re welcome.
Happy holidays, everyone!
As I’ve said many times before, I like to read books about other cultures. I feel like I learn so much. This was a recounting of the author’s humanitarian efforts trying to help Iraqi women during the height of the War in Iraq. I’ve read another book, From Baghdad with Love, which was about a US Marine adopting a dog during his time in Iraq. While neither of these books focuses directly on the war, the author’s opinions about the war, etc., they both give you some insight on that “side” of the war and what is going on. Plus, isn’t the book cover so beautiful?
“Barefoot in Baghdad” is told in the first-person of Manal Omar, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent. Even though she was born and raised in the US, she chooses to wear the traditional veil. In 2003, after graduating from college and securing a great job in DC, she chooses to accept a job with Women for Women International, providing aid to women in Iraq. Her family does not want her to go and begs her not to. Manal feels so strongly about this cause that she finally convinces her family that she is going.
When Manal arrives and begins her work, she is paired up with three Iraqi males, who are disappointed that she was not a “traditional” American woman as they imagined in their minds. She begins to forge a relationship with them and helps teach them English as they help her navigate through Iraq. Manal’s goal is to help Iraqi women get on their feet and provide for themselves when their culture tends to shun them for certain reasons. Manal is enjoying time in Baghdad, the culture and the people, until the war begins to take its toll. She is afraid for her life – several business contacts have been killed or kidnapped and she is forced to change her routines and business in order to stay alive. All the while, her relationship with one of her Iraqi coworkers becomes stronger despite all of the challenges they face.
I so enjoyed this book. While it was a difficult topic, I thought Manal did a great job of detailing her experience in Iraq. She writes at the beginning of the book that the book is NOT about the war or her opinions, etc., but about her experience helping women. She explains several “cases” she is assigned to and you learn how difficult women really have it over there. You also hear more about the Iraqi culture and the people. It gives you a much different perspective on what you hear in the news and on TV. While some might read too much into things and still see this as controversial, I learned so much about what the Iraqi women are going through and it really opened my eyes.
If this story really connects with you, you can sponsor a woman in one of the countries that Women for Women International supports. (I am in no way affiliated with or have a relationship with this organization. Just wanted to share a way for you to help.)