Saturday, 31 March 2012


People keep looking for stuff about books here (not unnaturally, for a blog called Bookcrossing) so this one is for them.

I like the Amazon wishlist feature (though if you are really a book-lover, support your independent bookshops by ordering from The Big Green Bookshop or Housman's (the ethical alternative to Amazon.)

Here is my top 5 of a wishlist of, um, 148...

If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession b
y our own blogging Susanna Forrest. It is nice when you feel like you've witnessed the evolution of a book. When I am less broke, I will get this, I can't wait to read it. Endorsed by Jilly Cooper and KM Peyton, no less. I was not a horsey girl (horses were vetoed in my family before I was born, when my sister came off a horse and landed on her head at her first riding lesson) but I love Susie's writing and it's the sign of a good writer, when they make a subject fascinating, which you know nothing about.

Spitalfields Life: In the midst of life I woke to find myself living in an old house beside Brick Lane in the East End of London, by the Gentle Author.
Another blogger, this one writes a post a day about all the people who live and work in Spitalfields. It's an astonishing feat of oral history and the author writes with such sympathy and interest about people. I really like this, fuck all this Downton Abbey shit which says that only the rich are worthy of our interest. I saw the Gentle Author talking to the Librarian when I was working in the Bishopsgate Library but was too shy to say hello.

Capital, by John Lanchester

State of the nation book about London. Stories set in London never get old. Half the books on my shelves are set in London. I'm a London chauvinist. It's stressful and hard and insanely expensive, but I wonder if I'll ever leave? I wish publishers would publish hardbacks and softbacks at the same time, I hate hardbacks. The reviews come out and I get all excited, then realise I have to wait a year to buy the book. Bah.

Negative Space by Noma Bar

Noma Bar is a brilliant graphic designer. These are so deceptively simple, using negative space economically to make double images. It's only when you try it yourself that you realise what a genius he is.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This sounds like a mind-boggling true story. One of those stories that makes you think we know nothing about how the world truly works. I should read more non-fiction. I'm copying here a summary from a reviewer on Amazon, as it is complex and they explain it well...

In 1951 human tissue culture was in its infancy, with researchers struggling to keep cells alive beyond a few cellular generations; normal cells are subject to apoptosis (programmed cellular lifespan/death)

Henrietta Lacks, a poor young black woman, was admitted to hospital in Baltimore in 1951 with an exceptionally invasive and aggressive cancer.

A standard biopsy was taken of her cancerous cells. She did not know that the biopsy would not be used purely for diagnostic purposes, but also tissues would be used for research. No consent was sought for this. In 1951 and indeed still today samples of tissue taken for diagnostic purposes can be used for other purposes - we do not own our tissues once they are no longer part of us.

Cancer cells are not subject to apoptosis. The particular aggressiveness of Henrietta Lack's cancer yielded astonishing results for tissue culture, and within a short space of time the `HeLa' cell line was being used for a wide number of medical research studies world wide, whether testing the actions of many pharmaceutical drugs or as part of the human genome project, and more.

`HeLa' has had profound, beneficial effects on probably most of us who benefit from modern medicine. HeLa has earned millions of dollars and much prestige for many predominantly white male scientists, as patents have been taken out on advances only possible through tissue culture using the HeLa line

However, Henrietta's family were unaware of the rich legacy she left the world - or the rich financial legacy reaped by institutions and individuals. In fact, they remained poor and unable to afford healthcare


  1. I like this post - it makes a good meme and I shall do it myself at some point.

  2. The spitalfields books sounds like the oral histories written by Studs Terkel. If you haven't come across him, try out Division Street: America, Working, and "The Good War". Possibly three out of the ten great works of oral history ever.

    He was one of the last true leftwingers, too.

  3. I'm starting to think it's about time I took a look at Iain M Banks' Culture series, since I've heard so many good things about them. Problem is, after years of seeing them in charity shops I now can't find a copy of Consider Phlebas anywhere. I may have to buy a brand new copy, shudder.

  4. Also: Boo! White males! Booooo! Bastards the lot of 'em.

  5. GSE - do!

    Miscommunicant - I have read about him, his books sound like they'd be right up my street.

    LC, there might be one knocking around the house, I'll have a look for you. Not that you're going to have any time for reading when number two arrives, bwahaahaha!

    Oh, I know you white males have it tough too. But even you must confess that that particular history is a fairly convincing proof that there is a pretty vicious hierarchy based on race and gender in existence in the world...

  6. Thanks. It just grates a little when you constantly see "white male" being used as shorthand for "evil imperialist capitalist misogynist everything-else-ist bastard". I thought pigeon-holing people based on gender/race wasn't on any more.