Sunday, March 7, 2010

Books, Books, Books

It seems as though I've been thinking a lot about books lately, but not enough about my own.

Last week I attended two of my friend Paula Butturini's readings for her beautiful and touching memoir, “Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy”, while she was making a rare visit to my part of the world before returning to Paris.

I don't think it will be long before most of America learns about this book that extols the importance of food, friends and families in surviving major life crises. Due to the extraordinary story, brilliant writing and frank discussion of depression, Keeping the Feast already is garnering major league publicity, including a piece in the March 8 issue of People magazine (the edition with Susan Boyle on the cover) and in a USA Today article last week that you can read by clicking here.

Another book that's received nationwide attention is "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," a fascinating true story about the source of the scientifically famous HeLa cells written by Rebecca Skloot, who also visited my local independent RiverRun Bookstore not long ago.

HeLa cells were the first human cells grown in a laboratory and were critical to developing the polio vaccine and a number of important medicines. They also helped advance our knowledge about cancer and viruses, and were instrumental in scientific breakthoughs like cloning and gene mapping.

The source of all these cells was tissue removed in 1951 from a poor Baltimore woman named Henrietta Lacks, without her knowledge, before she died of cancer. According to the book jacket, if you piled all the HeLa cells ever grown on a scale, they would weigh over 50 million metric tons -- as much as 100 Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells have been bought and sold by the billions for medical research over the past few decades but her family never received one dime and even today, cannot afford health insurance.

Meanwhile, books have been arriving in my house over the past week from mystery writers who will be on the panel I was selected to moderate at the Malice Domestic conference at the end of April outside Washington, DC. Our subject is the "Whydunit?: Focusing on the Why to Get to the Who." It's a tough job having to prepare for this traditional mystery conference by reading great books by New York Times best-selling and award-winning author Louise Penny, Ellen Hart (24 books and counting!), Cynthia Riggs (her protagonist is 92) and Canadian writer Joan Boswell, but someone's got to do it!

And just yesterday, I spent part of the afternoon listening to Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher talk about his new book, "Walking to Gatlinburg," a Civil War-era novel that chronicles the nightmarish odyssey of 17-year-old Morgan Kinneson from northern Vermont to Tennessee during 1864.

Mosher is the author of 10 novels and a travel memoir. Yesterday he gave a slide presentation of the real-life sources of some of the characters and incidents in his latest book.

He also talked about his muse -- a broken-down drunk songwriter he met in a Tennessee bar. Mosher says he overheard the guy give a young singer the best advice he's ever heard when it comes to creativity: "Don't hold nothin' back."

I'll be thinking about that as I try to put aside all these wonderful books written by other people and prepare to plunge back into my novel-in-progress. It's time for me to stop readin' and start writin' my own book instead. I hope you won't mind if this also means fewer blog postings along the way.

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