Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Published: 2010

Who is entitled to our genetic material? If my cells enable a drug company to create a profit generating drug should I get some of the proceeds? As the laws are today, I couldn’t. Sharing the profits with me would cause drug companies to stop making drugs, or so they say. That last sentence is so absurd I laughed a little while typing it. 

Henrietta Lacks signed off on giving her cancerous cervical cells to research. Years later her cells have been reproduced enough to encircle the world. They were used in developing several cancer treatments. In essence these cells were the precursor to billions of dollars of medical services and treatments. Meanwhile Henrietta’s children and grandchildren cannot afford healthcare.

Something is deeply wrong with this. Although I am not of the opinion that The Lacks family should be millionaires off their mom’s genetic material, it does feel unjust that her children cannot afford the treatments that their mother enabled. At the core of this book is the conflict inherent in capitalism as our caretaker.

We are engaging with a set of economic causes and effects, all the while pretending there is some morality to it. There’s nothing moral in supply and demand, it is better a display of amoral power. Those that have can extort those that do not to greatest degree possible. And when they do so we consider that “good” business. 

If we question the outcomes of this blind system, we are always scolded with the dramic choice between no healthcare and a more equitable system or healthcare for the wealthy. This either/or proposition has been demonstrated as false by Britain’s NHS and Canada’s healthcare. But we still believe that to control morally bankrupt capitalist forces in our healthcare is to handover our decisions to a soulless government minion. But a profit-seeking insurance agent is just peachy.

Lifting this rock a bit more reveals our unspoken, toxic adoration of wealth as being synonymous with right and good, and poverty being only a moral failing rather than a systemic feature of capitalism. Most of the rich people I know have overcome less barriers than the poor people I know. If what we really value is hard work, my time waiting tables should have been better than my time spent in my cushioned office chair directing project meetings. But that isn’t what my pay says. 

Meanwhile I will enjoy my yearly checkup in a few weeks. I will get my teeth cleaned with no out of pocket expenses. And I will think about a those years waiting tables with no healthcare. And I will consider that I must have become more morally good since then.

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100 Books While 40: DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL

Title: Diary of a Young Girl
Author: Anne Frank
Published: 1952

I always wondered why my fundamentalist school didn’t have us read this book. Now I know.

I already had these kinds of feelings subconsciously before I came here, because I remember that once when I slept with a girl friend I had a strong desire to kiss her, and that I did do so. I could not help being terribly inquisitive over her body, for she had always kept it hidden from me. I asked her whether, as proof of our friendship, we should feel one another’s breasts, but she refused. I go into ecstasies every time I see the naked figure of a woman, such as Venus, for example. It strikes me as so wonderful and exquisite that I have difficulty in stopping the tears rolling down my cheeks. If only I had a girl friend. 

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

It would be unacceptable to normalize same-sex attraction. More darkly, the strict obedience that’s enforced in fundamentalist communities is authoritarian in nature. Further the Jews are pagans just as much as Satanists, so fostering empathy for their marginalization and mass murder doesn’t serve their interests.

Anne Frank shares her deepest struggles to embrace true connection and to assert her independence from her parents all the while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. Her immediate family shares a set of hidden rooms in a warehouse with a few others for over two years. It’s after D Day when they are discovered, and unfortunately only Anne’s father survives their internment. Her last entry she shares her choice to believe in the goodness inherent in us all in spite of her keen understanding of the atrocities she’s attempting to escape. And then. Silence. 

We have been pointedly reminded that we are in hiding, that we are Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand duties. We Jews mustn’t show our feelings, must be brave and strong, must accept all inconveniences and not grumble, must do what is within our power and trust in God. Sometime this terrible war will be over. Surely the time will come when we are people again, and not just Jews. 

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

Are we any better now? Are homosexuals people? Are Muslims people? Our vice-president elect attempted to redirect funding to treat AIDS patients towards conversion therapy, including shock treatment, to make gay people straight. Our president seeks to prevent Muslims from immigrating to the US. He has promised to register them, the first step that Hitler took in his campaign to eradicate The Jews. Are we any different now? 

I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.

Oh, it is sad, very sad, that once more, for the umpteenth time, the old truth is confirmed: “What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.”

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

It is enraging and comforting to know that this false narrative persists: when someone from the majority commits horrible acts it is only a reflection of himself while when a minority commits horrible acts it represents all that is wrong with the entire minority population. This false generalization has been with us for ages. Resisting it is an old struggle. But that it still persists suggests I will die with it continuing to hold power.

History is sitting here telling us everything we need to know. The power hungry among us will continue to flatter and build resentment. And like those before us we will foolishly listen.

Stealing value from one life steals value from us all.

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100 Books While 40: OF HUMAN BONDAGE

Title: Of Human Bondage
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Published: 1915

Nothing can rival the passing of years to impart understanding and wisdom to the thoughtful. The stories of all the men Philip wanted to be versus the man he actually became is only meaningful to one who has seen many of their lives spin out of our imaginations and later die on the indifferent shores of reality.

Age gives these truths. Unlike The Age of  Innocence this shows the way in which our thwarted dreams can give space for the perfect dream unseen but desired. After many false starts Philip finds his love and contentment in simple pleasures afforded by a modest life. 

It is in the smile of a loved one or their small victory in sharing who they are. These are the gifts easily missed in the forest of our own distracting sensations and habit of living in the future or the past. They are waiting to be seen just beyond the TV and our phone screens. They are there just to the side of the bitter disappointment over a lost job or a missed opportunity. 


100 Books While 40: THE LOOMING TOWER

Title: The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11
Author: Lawrence Wright
Published: 2006

In the months between starting this book and finishing it my dad and Jeannine’s mom died. The pages have been difficult to turn mostly because people are still dying over the ideas captured in black and white. On the page the words seem oddly innocuous.

But there was no American response. The country was in the middle off a presidential election, and Clinton was trying to burnish his legacy by securing a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. The Cole bombing had occurred just as the talks were falling apart. Clinton maintains that, despite the awkward political timing, his administration come close to launching another missile attack against bin Laden that October, but at the last minute the CIA recommended calling it off because his presence at the site was not completely certain.

Bin Laden was angry and disappointed. He hoped to lure America into the same trap the Soviets had fallen into: Afghanistan. His strategy was to continually attack until the U.S. forces invaded; the the mujahideen would swarm upon them and bleed them until the entire American empire fell from its wounds. It had happened to Great Britain and to the Soviet Union. He was certain it would happen to America. The declaration of ware, the strike on the American embassies and now the bombing of the Cole had been inadequate, however, to provoke a massive retaliation. He would have to create and irresistible outrage.

And he was partially successful. We spent 3 trillion dollars fighting an idea. That money could have shored up our aging infrastructure. That money could have been used to give those out of work new skills. We gave up our civil liberties with the Patriot Act and the expansion of the executive branch’s power. We gave up our morality and engaged in torture.

But I think the culmination of his success only just happened. We’ve just elected a president with profoundly anti-democratic ideas. We’ve elected a president who will unleash an assault on the pluralistic ideal of our country. We’ve elected someone who might put an end to all the things Bin Laden hated in us.

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100 Books While 40: Blog Bankrupcy

In the last four weeks I have moved across the country, collected and constructed all new furniture, survived eight days in Cuba, and taken over a failing project at work. I’ve managed to keep meditating, studying Spanish, and enjoying myself through it all. I haven’t managed to keep up with writing. At all.

I’ve finished The Corrections, A Wrinkle in Time, The Invisible Man, and Bel Canto. I’ve not written about any of them. And after a week of fresh hell in Cuba, I have thousands of words that could be written just about that experience. Plus, there are a whole host of bands that I could be researching in preparation for Bunbury.

I am declaring blog bankruptcy on the blogs that should be written about those books. The Corrections captured the desperation of the suburbs and the sickness that can be passed between dysfunctional family generations with jarring clarity. If there are only enough spare minutes for one book, The Corrections is that book. With that mile-wide brush stroke, I can attempt to capture Cuba with words.


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Correcting for Mistakes 2016

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I read the BBC’s best 100 books list over the last few years. I sum up the experience here. I enjoyed completing the list very much, but I made one mistake. I didn’t choose my list wisely.

I am aiming to correct for this mistake now. I am starting on a new list. This one is from Amazon, and seems to have a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction and an over-representation of American authors–the BBC list was very … British. While I am open to reading books by foreign authors, I would prefer to nail down some American classics first. Never fear. I have read all of Jane Austen’s and Charles Dickens’s works. Thanks BBC!

I will write about what I read just as I did the last one. And I am trying something a bit more ambitious. Amazon has two lists, one that’s suggested by the editors and one that’s readers choice (for some reason this link is broken on Amazon’s, no worries I have the list below). I am going to try and knock both of them out.

There is probably overlap in the lists, but that requires more Excel wizardry than I want to attempt right now. I will get to that, just not today. Pending reading total from both lists is exactly one hundred and twenty books. I am shooting to have these all read by my forty-third birthday. Basically, I am giving myself the same amount of time to finish one hundred and twenty books as I did a little over seventy books from my last list. Read, set, read!

Here’s the Amzon Editor’s list and what what I’ve already read marked. Twenty-nine down, seventy-one to go.

1 1984 George Orwell
2 A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle
3 Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret Judy Blume
4 Catch-22 Joseph Heller – Read
5 Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 Jeff Kinney
6 Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown
7 Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri
8 Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder
9 Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris – Read
10 On the Road Jack Kerouac – Read
11 Silent Spring Rachel Carson
12 The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X and Alex Haley
13 The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
14 The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Philip Pullman – Read
15 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot
16 The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Lawrence Wright
17 The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel Barbara Kingsolver Read
18 The Shining Stephen King
19 The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame – Read
20 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Read
21 A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking
22 Alice Munro: Selected Stories Alice Munro
23 Bel Canto Ann Patchett
24 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl – Read
25 Dune Frank Herbert Read
26 Great Expectations Charles Dickens – Read
27 Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
28 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
29 Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides – Read
30 Out of Africa Isak Dinesen
31 Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut – Read
32 The Book Thief Markus Zusak
33 The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Erik Larson
34 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald – Read
35 The Liars’ Club: A Memoir Mary Karr
36 The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien – Read
37 The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York Robert A. Caro
38 The Stranger Albert Camus
39 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel Haruki Murakami
40 Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption Laura Hillenbrand
41 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Dave Eggers – Read
42 Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll – Read
43 Beloved Toni Morrison – Read
44 Charlotte’s Web E.B. White
45 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
46 Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Jared M. Diamond
47 Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth Chris Ware
48 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Read
49 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie – Read
50 Persepolis Marjane Satrapi
51 Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin
52 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz
53 The Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank
54 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
55 The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) Rick Riordan
56 The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales Oliver Sacks
57 The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe
58 The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
59 The World According to Garp John Irving
60 Valley of the Dolls Jacqueline Susann
61 A Long Way Gone Ishmael Beah
62 All the President’s Men Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
63 Born To Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen Christopher McDougall
64 Cutting For Stone Abraham Verghese
65 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream Hunter S. Thompson
66 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling – Read
67 Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain
68 Love Medicine Louise Erdrich
69 Moneyball Michael Lewis
70 Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
71 The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton
72 The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger – Read
73 The Fault in Our Stars John Green
74 The House At Pooh Corner A. A. Milne – Read
75 The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
76 The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Michael Pollan – Read
77 The Road Cormac McCarthy
78 The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien
79 The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion
80 Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein
81 A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning: The Short-Lived Edition Lemony Snicket
82 Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir Frank McCourt
83 Breath, Eyes, Memory Edwidge Danticat
84 Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead Brene Brown – Read
85 Gone Girl Gillian Flynn – Read
86 In Cold Blood Truman Capote – Read
87 Life After Life Kate Atkinson
88 Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
89 Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
90 Pride & Prejudice Jane Austen – Read
91 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Michael Chabon
92 The Color of Water James McBride
93 The Giver Lois Lowry
94 The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins – Read
95 The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler
96 The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster
97 The Secret History Donna Tartt – Read
98 Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
99 The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle
100 Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

Here’s the reader’s choice list. Fifty-one down, forty-nine to go.

1 To Kill a Mockingbird – Read
2 Pride and Prejudice – Read
3 The Diary of a Young Girl
4 1984 George Orwell
5 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (book #1) – Read
6 The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings #1-3) – Read
7 The Great Gatsby – Read
8 Charlotte’s Web
9 The Hobbit – Read
10 Little Women (Little Women #1) – Read
11 Fahrenheit 451 – Read
12 Jane Eyre – Read
13 Animal Farm
14 Gone with the Wind – Read
15 The Catcher in the Rye – Read
16 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
17 The Book Thief
18 The Help – Read
19 The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) – Read
20 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – Read
21 The Grapes of Wrath – Read
22 Lord of the Flies – Read
23 The Kite Runner
24 Night (The Night Trilogy, #1)
25 Hamlet
26 A Wrinkle in Time
27 A Tale of Two Cities – Read
28 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Read
29 Of Mice and Men – Read
30 Romeo and Juliet [New Folger Edition)
31 The Secret Garden – Read
32 A Christmas Carol – Read
33 The Little Prince
34 Brave New World
35 Where the Sidewalk Ends
36 The Handmaid’s Tale
37 The Giver (The Giver #1)
38 Wuthering Heights – Read
39 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (HP #7) – Read
40 The Fault in Our Stars
41 Anne of Green Gables – Read
42 Macbeth
43 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
44 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Read
45 Frankenstein
46 Holy Bible: King James Version too many humans
47 The Color Purple
48 The Count of Monte Cristo – Read
49 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
50 East of Eden
51 Alice in Wonderland – Read
52 In Cold Blood – Read
53 Catch-22 (Catch-22, #1) – Read
54 Outlander (Outlander, #1)
55 The Stand – Read
56 Anna Karenina – Read
57 Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet #1)
58 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (#3) – Read
59 Memoirs of a Geisha
60 Watership Down – Read
61 Great Expectations – Read
62 Rebecca – Read
63 A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice #1)
64 The Old Man and the Sea
65 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes #3)
66 Les Misérables – Read
67 Celebrating Silence: Excerpts from Five Years of Weekly Knowledge 1995-2000
68 Life of Pi
69 Harry Potter and the Half-Blook Prince (HP #6) – Read
70 The Scarlet Letter – Read
71 The Pillars of the Earth (#1) – Read
72 The Chronicles of Narnia (#1-7) – Read
73 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Read
74 Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) – Read
75 The Princess Bride
76 Water for Elephants
77 Dracula – Read
78 The Secret Life of Bees
79 The Raven – Read
80 The Poisonwood Bible – Read
81 One Hundred Years of Solitude
82 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Read
83 The Odyssey
84 The Good Earth (House of Earth #1)
85 And Then There Were None
86 Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) – Read
87 The Thorn Birds – Read
88 A Prayer for Owen Meany – Read
89 The Glass Castle
90 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
91 The Road
92 The Things They Carried
93 Crime and Punishment – Read
94 Siddhartha
95 Beloved (Toni Morrison Trilogy #1) – Read
96 The Story of My Life
97 The Phantom Tollbooth
98 Cutting for Stone
99 The Brothers Karamazov
100 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler