Viking. Woman. Explorer.
When you think of Vikings, perhaps you envision a grim-faced man in a horned helmet, wielding an axe as he stands at the prow of a longship, long hair streaming in the cold wind, mind set on pillage and plunder. But how accurate is this image? What about Viking women - did any of them go along with the men on these voyages? And what did Vikings do when they weren’t raiding or exploring?
My interest in all things northern recently led me to read The Far Traveler by Nancy Marie Brown, which answers these questions and more. It’s a fascinating look at the life of Gudrid, an Icelandic woman who traveled far indeed, from Iceland to Greenland on a harrowing voyage in which half the crew died, then further to the distant continent of Vinland, and in later life to Rome. The book jumps from describing modern-day excavations in Iceland to bits of the ancient sagas (I loved hearing about the brothers, known for their tight pants, who took over as the local ruffians after Eirik the Red got kicked out of Iceland). By combining archaeology with literary evidence, a compelling case emerges that Vinland was in North America, and that Gudrid was there. As she follows Gudrid’s story, Brown also reveals much about life in Iceland and Greenland around the year 1000. If you ever wanted to know how to build a turf house that will stand up to an Arctic winter, this is the book for you. Some of my favorite parts were details about Viking food, such as bone jelly soup and bog butter. How tasty! I also enjoyed the description of the fuzzy tufted cloaks the Icelanders were fond of for their warmth and rain-shedding abilities, and which they liked to dye… purple?
For more fact and fiction about Iceland and Greenland in the times of the sagas, take a look at the list below.
Viking. Woman. Explorer.
As I’m sure you all already know, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had declared that this week is National Aerospace Week! Which means it’s time to indulge in some of my favorite things: Music, frogs, geodesic domes and home cooked meals. I guess we should add outer space to the list as well. But first, a word from Carl Sagan about our Pale Blue Dot. It’s totally worth the minute and a half. I’ll wait for you.
Ready? It has been an exciting time at NASA leading up to this week. It is time again for the Harvest Moon for those of us on Earth and out in space Voyager 1, which launched in 1977 and is older than me, has officially left the building (and entered interstellar space), the Q&A here brings up some interesting points, like how you can’t get rid of those old computers, because the new ones don’t understand what Voyager is sending back. And the newest member of family, the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) left Earth for the Moon with some unintended frog assistance:
But in spite of all these events and their ongoing efforts to increase awesomeness around (and above) the globe, not all the news for NASA has been cheery lately. Even while working in partnership with private ventures, the reality is that the Space Shuttles have been retired and the NASA budget, like most government agencies, has shrunk in the last years. (The video is from 2009, but covers the issues quite well.)
But there is plenty to still study and dream about. New types of vehicles are being created, new inventions will be added to the list of thousands that are already are a part of our lives, and work for a mission to Mars is underway. (Including, but not limited to how to cook for long space missions. Hint: pack tortillas.)
And what do the minds at NASA do when they aren’t being officially awesome? The make music videos of course! Not only can you watch the obligatory parody, a group from the Jet Proplsion Labratory helped create this merging of science and rock and roll that we will cap our Aeronautics Week!
Want more? Ask an astronaut... I mean a librarian!
The story of this country is the story of people coming and going, but mostly coming. The very concept of America has captured the imaginations of millions, among them writers, artists and bloggers. I was reminded of the amazing pastiche of people who have come here after looking at artist Maira Kalman's latest on her blog The Pursuit of Happiness. In "I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door", Kalman takes a long view of the history of this country, beginning with Leif Ericson and ending with a trip to a cemetery in the Bronx, where the diminutive immigrant Irving Berlin is buried, the one who gave us the line "heaven, I'm in heaven...".
New York is a fine place to start if you want to hear stories about outsiders and newcomers. A recent trip there inspired me to read, watch and listen to everything I could find about the city. Intrigued by the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, I searched for some fiction of that era and discovered Up From Orchard Street by Eleanor Widmer. It's a 'slice of life' story about a family living in a crowded apartment in 1920's Manhattan and trying to make ends meet by running a restaurant out of their front room. A earlier and grittier portrayal of immigrants is the movie Gangs of New York. Though Scorsese took artistic liberties in describing the rivalries between immigrant gangs, he did draw from the book of the same name Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, by Herbert Asbury, first published in 1928. Be sure to watch the extra footage provided on the DVD if you're interested in the environs of 1800's Lower East Side.
A recent album by Steve Earle, who himself 'immigrated' to Greenwich Village from Tennessee, celebrates his adopted home. Washington Square Serenade includes several love letters to the city. "Down Here Below" tells the story of Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk who took up residence near Central Park and became a media darling. Another song rejoices in the diversity of NYC: "I've no need to go traveling; open the door and the world walks in, living in a city of immigrants."
According to the AARP Foundation, across the United States almost 5.8 million children are living in grandparents’ homes, with more than 2.5 million grandparents assuming responsibility for these children. Grandparents are often isolated in their endeavors; they report a lack of information, resources, and benefits to successfully fulfill their caregiver role. Armed with these statistics and anecdotal evidence from community members, I gathered a team of staff members to figure out a way the library could celebrate these grand families. The team agreed on a simple mission statement to direct our efforts: it is through the infinite wisdom and experience of their elders that children learn the unique cultural and familial values that help them grow into valuable contributors of the community. After meeting with different agencies and groups across the County, we saw a unique need the library could fulfill--a space where grandparents could share their stories. Our goal was a series of programs that would highlight a variety of methods of storytelling. Grandparents, Grand Stories was born.
As a filmmaker, I learned so much by working with the families of the Grandparents, Grand Stories media camp. Sure, there were the usual lights, camera and action. Of course each participant learned about lighting and audio and interview technique. But when I look back on this camp, I recall a summer filled with more than basic filmmaking workshops. I recall a summer filled with laughter, stories, new friends and revelations about the experiences that make us who we are. In meeting these families and hearing the stories each person told, I glimpsed the connections that we all have with each other. Families are the fabric that holds us together, and grandparents are often the weavers of this fabric. I am humbled by the commitment and deep love that I saw each grandparent display to their grandchildren, both in action and in words. I hope that I can carry this lesson to my own family and one day live up to their example. And I am proud to help bring these stories to you.
The other forms of storytelling the team chose to focus on were storytelling through music, dance, spoken word, and written word. Throughout the month of September look for other Grandparents, Grand Stories programs at a location near you.
See more videos from participants
With Syria in the headlines and talk of red lines, air strikes and diplomacy swirling, the issue of chemical weapons seems to be on the mind. And even as news outlets are reporting that the Syrian government might have agreed to give up its chemical weapons I find myself wondering what it is about them that frightens us in a way other weapons don’t.
Chemical weapons is an umbrella term for a set of chemicals ranging from LSD to Ricin to Mustard Gas that do all sorts of different (and terrible things) to people. While I conjure images of World War I when I think of chemical warfare (the first mass use was at the Battle of Ypres) its use has been around much longer stretching back Roman times and to an archeological site in, of all places, Syria. And even after they are banned in 1925 by the Geneva Protocol there is Napalm from the Vietnam War and Anthrax laced letters lurking in our more modern history.
I suppose part of the reason chemical weapons frighten us so is that it is indiscriminate, works far beyond (and long after) the control of those who release them and can be the work of very few people. Perhaps it is because many chemical weapons are substances that have been created or used for more positive uses and have been turned into something terrible. Or maybe we tend to get anxious around too much science. Or that gas masks are scary.
Whichever it is, I’m going to go home, hug my puppies and hope for the best.
Need some specific information we haven’t covered? Contact a librarian and we’ll be glad to help.
You’ve written something, and it’s time to publish! Self-publishing isn’t what it used to be - expensive, and often ignored by booksellers. Now you can bring your writing into physical form relatively cheaply, and it can be as glossy and perfect-bound as you like, or if you prefer, hand-stitched and hand-painted. With print-on-demand (POD) services, you can have one beautiful book printed for a family member or friend, or you can print many to distribute to bookstores. It can also be an e-book - many authors are finding great success with self-published e-books. The avenues to self-publishing are diverse!
Because there are so many options, you’ll want to inform yourself as best you can. Things to consider include:
- Do you want your book to have an ISBN?
- How do you plan to market your book?
- Who is the intended audience for your book?
Check out our booklist featuring books about self-publishing. Many of the books on this list discuss these questions, among others, that you should consider as you plan your self-publishing project.
What follows are just a few of the many resources available for you to choose from as you consider your self-publishing process.
For print-on-demand (POD) publishing, you can choose from a wide range of printers. Some popular POD printers include Lulu, Blurb, CreateSpace (a division of Amazon.com), Lightning Source, Ingram Spark (a division of Ingram, a major book distributor), and Smashwords (which publishes e-books only).
There some local resources that might be relevant to your project, too:
- Portland State University’s Ooligan Press is a teaching press staffed by students pursuing master’s degrees in the Department of English at Portland State University (PSU). PSU is also the home of Odin Ink, a print-on-demand publisher.
- Powell’s Books has print-on-demand self-publishing technology in the form of its Espresso Book Machine.
- Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is a membership organization with resources and workshops related to printing and book-making. They also have certificate programs in creative nonfiction/fiction, poetry, and comics/graphic novels.
If you’re interested in making contact with a local publisher or association, you might find the following organizations useful:
- This page about Oregon publishers, from the Oregon Authors website (maintained by Oregon Library Association and Oregon Center for the Book) .
- There’s also the Publishers Association of the West, which is a large professional association that provides links to its publisher members and associate members, listed by service - printers, for example.
For advice and news, the Alliance of Independent Authors has an advice blog about self-publishing.
Are you interested in having your e-book available in the library? OverDrive is the service that many libraries, including Multnomah County Library, use to provide access to e-books. Like publishing houses, self-publishers must fill out a Publisher Application found on OverDrive's Content Reserve site. OverDrive has also created a helpful Intro to Digital Distribution pdf for new authors and publishers. OverDrive's public contact info can be found here. If your e-book is added into the OverDrive catalog, you can then suggest that we purchase it.
In your creative work, you may find yourself wondering about copyright law and how it applies to you. We have quite a few books that provide guidance on these subjects - two of these are The Copyright Handbook: What Every Writer Needs to Know by Stephen Fishman and Fair Use, Free Use, and Use by Permission: How to Handle Copyrights in All Media, by Lee Wilson. You’ll find quite a few others under the subject heading Copyright -- United States -- Popular Works.
Have fun, enjoy the process, and feel empowered to get your work into print! As always, please let us know if we can help direct you to books or other resources to help with your project.
Visiting the Portland Zine Symposium is always exciting - a big room full of zinesters from far and wide, chatting, swapping zines, drawing, and displaying their work. Among the zines on display, there are minicomics, personal zines (aka perzines), works of history, fantasy, art, humor… basically, zines as diverse as the zinesters themselves. This year’s symposium was bursting with exciting new work, and we bought many new titles for the library’s zine collection.
Here are a few of our favorites. Also, check out our blog post about all the food-related zines we found at the Zine Symposium!
That’s Not Ok: Boundaries for the Conflict-Avoidant by Breanne Boland
A guide to setting boundaries that’s clear, concise, and also fun, interspersed with humor, comics, and drawings.
Portland Oregon AD 1999 by Jeff W. Hayes
Written in 1913 and beautifully reprinted by Corvus Editions, this speculative story tells of a little old lady who calls upon the narrator to tell him of the vision she’s had of life in Portland in 1999.
Mocha Chocolata Momma: Bessie Coleman by Marya Errin Jones
Mocha Chocolata Momma Zine chronicles the lives of black women, real or imagined. It’s part history lesson, part perzine, full of engrossing stories, photos, and illustrations. This issue’s about Bessie Coleman, the first female African American pilot.
Grow: How to Take Your DIY Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job! by Eleanor Whitney, MPA
From a blurb on the back: “Eleanor Whitney breaks down the daunting process of earning a living as a creative person into chewable, bite-size bits.” With easy-to-digest, step-by-step tips and tangible examples from working artists, Eleanor’s expert advice is some of the most sought-after content on diybusinessassociation.com.” - Amy Cuevas Schroeder, Venus Zine and DIY Business Association
Includes the author’s original posting on Craigslist, as well as all the responses she received. Can you guess which guys she actually went on dates with?
Punk by Mimi Thi Nguyen and Golnar Nikpour
A conversation between two lifelong punks about punk and how it’s been defined, studied, and canonized, and the problems and politics therein.
Bad Boy Image #1: Paranormal by Asher Craw, Fiona Avocado, and Moishe
The first comic zine put out by Bad Boy Image, a comics collective consisting of Asher Craw, Fiona Avocado, and Moishe. This issue focuses on stories of the paranormal.
Science You Forgot: An Illustrated Guide to Your Elementary School Science Textbook by Jeannette Langmead
Gorgeous illustrations reminiscent of your childhood science textbooks, including four famous scientists, with facts you may have forgotten. Also includes an experimental cocktail and a pop quiz drinking game because you're a grown up now.
This issue of the long-running zine about radical parenting focuses on parents sharing hard-earned wisdom with one another.
Trusty Companion #1 by Katy Ellis O'Brien and Max Karl Key
A charming comic all in blue about a lady space explorer and her robotic trusty companion.
At this year's Portland Zine Symposium, we found that quite a few zinesters were offering new zines about food - from the practical to the poetic to the bizarre. Read, relish, cook, laugh, enjoy!
(Also, check out our other blog post about new zines from the Zine Symposium!)
Food Stamp Foodie #3 by Virginia Paine
This issue of Food Stamp Foodie includes recipes, self-care tips and DIY projects in comics form. Simple vegan recipes, easy sewing projects and more!
Carnage by Kelly
A zine about cooking and eating meat, from the perspective of an author who was formerly vegetarian.
A zine about eating kosher!
Burgermancer #1 by Jason “JFish” Fischer
A burger fanzine, full of comics, recipes, reviews and articles - all about burgers. It’s delightfully weird, and features an interview with Hamburger Harry, burger connoisseur and curator at the Hamburger Museum.
Flavor by Sofie Sherman-Burton
Rich prose (or prose poems?) recalling the author’s most prominent food memories.
Origins of the burrito, recipes, interviews with burrito experts, log of burritos eaten in Portland. Focuses on vegetarian and vegan burritos.
both by Kione
These two teeny-tiny 8-page zines feature clear instructions and tips for making your own kombucha and ginger ale!
When I was a kid I begged my parents to buy me what was billed as a 'scultping' toy. The ads showed cool kids with berets chipping away at small square blocks of stone and then, voila! - the stone would reveal a figure. Never mind that the sculpture was actually pre-made and your job was just to peel away the outside, no creativity required.
I never did get my longed for toy, but I'm reminded of it now that I'm into the next season of Breaking Bad. Why? Because sometimes art is just about uncovering what's already there. At first blush, Walt seems like a good-natured sort, a sometimes overly moralistic guy affected by bad circumstances, always trying to do the right thing for his family. But as time goes by the real Walt is revealed. I would argue that the pragmatic guy who views the murder of one of his dealers as collateral damage is in fact the real Walt, the one who has always been there and who uses his upright personna as a cloak for his real self.
Is Walt corrupted by his desperate circumstances, or do his circumstances just uncover the true Walt? I think the criminal mastermind was always lurking in the stone. It's an interesting question to ponder, and the fact that Walt inspires that kind of inquiry is a credit to how well-crafted the character is.
I find myself wondering if the character of Piper in Orange is the New Black will follow a similar arc. I'm referring to the series and not the original, non-fiction book - you can hear what Piper Kerman thinks of the liberties the show has taken with her memoir on a recent Fresh Air interview; I wonder if the character will do a 'Walter White' and the softness of her constructed self will be peeled away by prison life. What do you think?
I started reading The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti late last week.
The subtitle says it all. Love, betrayal, revenge, great cheese. If there were room on the cover I would add the words 'Family' and 'Sun-burned Small-town Spain'.
For the first couple days I would think about the book for hours, clock-watching until I could get a few more minutes with it. But it's the kind of book that deserves more than 15 minutes between loads of laundry and emptying the dishwasher. It deserves a quiet space and a steaming cup of coffee. Now one week in I'm getting up extra early to read in bed during that delicious time before the city is awake. Every single page is densely packed with delicious writing and humor. There are on-page footnotes (love them) that make a Siamese twin to the story itself.
I'm not finished yet but I can tell you this book is my favorite of the year. And I know in my heart that Paterniti will find himself receiving accolades and awards for months to come.
When genetically-modified wheat was discovered in an Oregon field in the spring of 2013, the long-standing debate over genetically-modified foods intensified. How was Roundup Ready wheat created? And how did it end up in a field in Oregon, years after it was discontinued? What is the government’s role in regulating such technology?
Citizens and scientists have been debating the pros and cons of GMOs for years. Polls have shown the public is skeptical. Environmental and food safety organizations are concerned about the risks GMOs pose for humans and the planet. However, the companies engineering the crops, such as Monsanto, insist they are safe, as do some farming groups. A number of scientists take a middle ground, acknowledging the potential benefits of genetic engineering but criticizing the current use and regulation of GMOs. Some writers have even argued for an “open-source” model of food genetics.
For an excellent overview on this issue, check out Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center in Context, which contains articles, statistics, audio files, and images. You’ll need to log in with your library card number and PIN to access this resource from outside the library.
Are you looking for some specific information not covered here? Contact a librarian for help.
A few years ago, I walked the Great Glen Way in Scotland. Ever since, I've been wanting to go back to Britain and do another walk, but I wasn't sure exactly where to go. After reading a review of Simon Armitage's Walking Home: A Poet's Journey, I immediately put a hold on the book. I had heard of the Pennine Way and thought perhaps I might like to try a portion of it as it is mostly in the northern part of England which I love.
Thankfully, I actually read the book and learned that there is no way in heck that I would ever attempt even a small part of 268 miserably wet and foggy miles that Armitage experienced on his journey. That being said, it was a lot of fun to read about someone else doing the trail! Armitage is a well-known poet, and decided that he would fund his trip by doing poetry readings almost every night of the 19 days he spent on the trail. Sometimes only a few showed up, but other nights the pub or hotel where he was staying was packed, and people gave generously. Armitage mixes in several poems he wrote along the trail with his thoughtful, humorous and self-deprecating journal. While I won't attempt his journey, the narrative has inspired me to seek out his poetry.
The felt swan shown here, on display in the Hermitage Museum, dates from the 4th-5th centuries BC. An object made of felt and deer hair with the figure supported by wooden stakes, it was part of a burial mound in the Eastern ranges of the Altai region in Russia. This image is from the book Felt, by Willow G. Mullins, an account of the many uses of felt over spans of centuries to contemporary times. It is an example of a type of book in the library that can serve as good starting points for your imagination, beginning with raw materials.
When experimenting with various types of media and processes associated with them, another type of book that is useful to remember about are the books about art hazards. As many people know from studying art, it's easy to forge ahead and forget that some of the properties of materials may be less than benign for health.
Summer may be winding down but there's still plenty of time to find a bestseller, discover a new author or explore a brand-new genre. Need some suggestions? Take a look at the following lists from selected newspapers and websites and see what appeals.
Lots of holds on a must-read title? Don't despair! Library shelves are full of new books to discover. If you're in the mood for sweeping tales that span centuries and generations, browse the Epic novels and stand-alone sagas reading list. If you prefer a quick read, try Stories, samplers and short works, engaging writing that can be read in one sitting.
Be sure and pick up a Read4Life adult summer reading game card to record your books. Return your card to any library by August 31st - you'll be entered to win an e-book reader.
NPR's Summer books 2013 critics' lists have something for everyone -- historicals, romance, forgotten classics, the urban experience, comics and poetry are some of the categories. USA Today features booksellers' picks for summer reading; scan their predictions for hot fiction, nonfiction and "sleepers" and see if they're on track. The LA Times' Summer Reading Guide includes 156 book picks: thrillers and young adult books, history and novels, memoirs and science fiction, pop culture books, kids books and more.
Find out-of-the-mainstream titles on Your mega summer reading list: 200 books recommended by TEDsters (designer Chip Kidd, editor Maria Popova, choreographer Bill T. Jones, to name a few). More hot, new and undiscovered titles appear on the DailyCandy's 14 New Books That Save Brain Cells This Summer: Essay anthologies, scorching family dramas and more.
Subject-specific lists to consider: Scientific American's Best Summer Books, recently-published science books worth reading selected by SA editors, bloggers and contributors; Theater Books for Summer Reading on the Broadway & Me blog; JP Morgan's Summer 2013 Reading List offers "a global exploration of topics including philanthropy, gender equality, business and art"; stretch your mind with some readable philosophy from the hosts and guests of Philosophy Talk.
Librarians love to steer book lovers to Indiebound, the independent booksellers website. Book groups will enjoy their Summer 2013 Reading Group Indie Next list. And no reading list would be complete without Oprah's summer picks: best cookbooks, compelling paperbacks, arresting memoirs and much more.
The books in the Library about the art of Maori people and other groups from the islands of the South Pacific provides us with "a sense of awe, the admiration for arts that are both beautiful and profound, with a history that commands our respect both for what we can know of it and what we cannot." - Arts of the Pacific Islands by Anne D'Alleva. This summer, the Library added a new book published in 2012, titled Art in Oceania: A New History, that spans art of the Pacific Islanders from the remnants of thousands of years ago to contemporary artists of this decade. Chapters describe by centuries the impact of political and social changes upon art of these islands, with effects of trade, war, and globalization of culture.
Many of the sculpture and other objects of wood, stone, and textiles historically were created for ceremonial uses, with elements of design and representation of human form that far exceed the merely practical. The wood carving shown here on the cover dates from 1896, by Tene Waitere, a master woodcarver and teacher, who during his lifetime created many commissioned works such as this panel. It is an example of the powerful sculpture and other forms of art in this book, interspersed with photographs, poetry, and stories from master craftsmen, artists, tribal leaders, travellers, and historians.
View an excerpt from this book from the publisher, Oxford University Press.
Looking for more books about the art of this region of the world? There is a good selection at Central Library. Find them collectively in the Library catalog with a search by subject heading: Art- Oceania.
This probably won’t come as a surprise but librarians like questions. And we really like answers. We like finding them and sharing them. But there are questions that don’t work that way: What is right and what is wrong? When do you keep a secret? Is it ever OK to break the law? Where should a person’s loyalties lie? Complicated in the best of times, when you enter the world of whistleblowers these questions really get messy. It’s not that they don’t have answers, more that they don’t have only one answer. And as the stakes get higher, often the answers are harder to pin down.
According to the National Whistleblowers Center, we have laws to protect people who “stop, report, or testify about employer actions that are illegal, unhealthy, or violate specific public policies”. Seems pretty clear, right? Well…only sort of. It’s just that no one seems to agree on what counts as being whistleblower and what is just breaking the rules. NPR reported a recent study that found that 55% think NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a whistleblower while 34% call him a traitor. And any of you who are good at math will notice that those numbers don’t come anywhere near 100%. So while we wait to discover Mr. Snowden’s future, let’s meet some other players in the whistleblowing world. And whether you prefer to read the Handbook, follow the official paper trail or sneak a look at Hollywood’s take, the library has you covered.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Whistleblower programs each received around 3000 tips from both private and public employees. They oversee the laws to protect people when they come forward with information. For many cases, this might be as far as it goes. Does the relative anonymity of these cases make them any less complicated or risky? Or is it true that we are all the stars of our own dramas? At the other end of things we have some of the country’s best known if not always the best loved whistleblowers who were involved in everything from Watergate, to police corruption, to nuclear power, to farming. And an entirely different approach to whistleblowing was introduced to the world by Wikileaks, who instead of blowing the whistle on one thing publish any and all secrets. Even from these few examples it’s obvious that being a whistleblower is a precarious and downright dangerous thing to be, even if they do make a movie about you.
If you want to explore this topic more, or if you have more questions about any of this, you know what to do: Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.
Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
There are loads of you out there who love to read a fat book (Hi, Mom!). You're drawn to authors like David McCullough, Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin. I've always regretted that I'm not one of you. I was not at all looking forward to reading this fat book, but it was for a book club so there was no getting around it. I cajoled myself with thoughts like, 'it won the Pulitzer Prize--it'll be good for you,' like it was a giant vitamin, and 'c'mon, you really like science writing.'
So I did it. I read Emperor of All Maladies because I had to. And sometimes when you read something you wouldn't normally choose, you stumble on something that will keep you thinking for weeks after. Like the little boys, as young as 4, who were apprenticed or indentured as chimney sweeps in England during the 17 and 1800's, working nearly naked in flues as narrow as nine inches square. If asphyxiation or burns didn't get them as kids, then dying in young adulthood from cancer caused by the soot that stuck to their bodies seemed almost guaranteed. I'm thinking of the sort of 'why don't we try this?' experimentation on cancer patients through history. I'm thinking of the horrifying, radical surgeries, done for decades, with the idea that cancer could be physically removed by surgeons if they just removed enough flesh. I'm thinking of the amazing discoveries of scientists that seemed almost random, like a light bulb suddenly went off over their heads in a very, very dark room.
We've all lost a loved one or friend or neighbor or coworker to cancer. Or maybe you're fighting its spread in your own body right now. Every week it's in the news. A new medication, a gene discovered, a warning about food or chemicals or the environment. Strangely, and I didn't expect this, reading Emperor was a comfort to me. That we really have made progress. That each form of cancer is so specific, working on the big picture is important. And working on the rare, one-in-a-million cancers is just as important, because the science behind a discovery is always connected to something else, even if we don't know what it is right away.