The Complete Book of Running For Women by Claire Kowalchik

A throwback review from when I was still a newbie runner and this was one of the first running books I ever read.

A throwback review from when I was still a newbie runner and this was one of the first running books I ever read.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 416 pages.
Read from April 20 to June 26, 2013.

As someone who has been seriously running for almost two years I didn’t think that this books would have anything to offer me. I was thankfully mistaken!

This book provided helpful insight for runners of all levels and goals. What I found the most beneficial was the advice that was supplied in regards to maintaining running while staying busy with family and relationships. While I am not a married woman and I don’t have any children I strongly admire the woman who keep running involved in their lives. I struggle to keep up sometimes, so I don’t know how other women manage! Women who run are taking care of themselves and they understand the importance of taking the time for themselves, especially when juggling a career, family etc. Besides the physical benefits of running most women who stick with running, stay for the mental benefits. I know I do!

I also appreciated the scientific explanations that were provided on why men and women perform so differently. The most fascinating was how different our bodies carried oxygen to our muscles and differences in how we store glycogen.

As I mentioned, I’m no where near the married-with-kids sort of life but I actually really enjoyed the chapters in regards to running while pregnant. I wasn’t going to read the chapter as it doesn’t currently apply to me but maybe one day in the future it might. As long as a woman is active before becoming pregnant and cuts her activity levels in half the benefits of running and staying active while pregnant is remarkably impressive. I even appreciated that they stated that while it is beneficial it has to come down to the woman’s comfort level too. If you’re not comfortable exercising while pregnant, then don’t.

The chapter in regards to menopause was another one that I was going to skip but I’m glad I didn’t. My Mom is runner who is at this stage and reading this chapter gave me a good idea of what her body is going and just how important is it to continue to stay active.

The few annoyances I did find with this book was that some of the information was a bit out of date, as the book was published well over 10 years ago so that’s not overly surprising I guess. For example, some of the brands of supplements or clothing that they suggested no longer exist. The one that stood out the most for me was that they suggested that runners shouldn’t do yoga because runners needs some tension in their legs and even implied that their aren’t any professional runners that do yoga. While this may have been relevant when it was published it most certainly isn’t now! The other item that was a bit tedious was that all of race and reference information was for the USA only, which wasn’t helpful to me as a Canadian.

Overall I would still recommend this books for any woman looking to get into running or is already running.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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3/5 stars.
ebook, 362 pages.
Read from May 31 to June 08, 2015.

For the last 60 years science has been using reproductions of the same cells for massive amounts of scientific research. They’re called the HeLa cells as they are named after the woman they were taken from, Ms. Henrietta Lacks. The cells were taken without Henrietta’s knowledge so for years, no one knew anything about the woman whose cells changed the face of scientific research and has helped save and heal millions of people as a result of this research. Almost on a sort of calling, author Rebecca Skloot felt strongly that she should find a way to tell Henrietta’s story and know more about the extraordinary person that made history by having her cells become the first ever to be replicated.

Henrietta Lacks came from very humble roots. She was born in Virginia in the summer of 1920, where her actual given name was Loretta Pleasant. To this day no one knows why or when she started going by Henrietta. The US was still segregated at this point so many black families were still not respected and were doing difficult work for very little pay. Henrietta and her family were tobacco farmers. Henrietta had her first child at 14 and married her first cousin. In 1951, Henrietta was diagnosed, at the only hospital that would treat black people, with cervical cancer while likely being pregnant with her fifth child. After the birth, doctor’s removed a lump in her cervix in which her cells were then also taken. In this day and age, doctors were not required to be accountable for removing cells or anything of the sort. They were even allowed withhold information if they didn’t believe it was on the patient’s best interest. It sounds outrageous but it was a common practice in this time period and people didn’t question their doctors. Black people were often treated as guinea pigs as well for any sort of research or experimentation. After the lump removal, Henrietta then went through a few sets of tube radiation treatments. Sadly, her cancer was misdiagnosed, as the specifics and differences between the types of cervical cancer were just starting to emerge at this point. The treatment itself is horrifying to read. Science just didn’t have the capacities to deal with cancer all that well during this time period and her radiation treatments were so strong that it charred and burned her skin.

Henrietta tragically did not improve and was in a significant amount of pain. She died on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31. Autopsies revealed that the cancer had spread through her entire body.

What makes this story enthralling, and equally horrifying, is question of the ethics and the morals of medicine when it comes to our cells and our bodies. Henrietta’s cells, or rather her cancer cells,  were unique, because they were the first cells to stay alive and reproduce in a laboratory. However, they were taken without her permission and since then her cells were sold, and are still sold by the billions to companies in the pursuit of scientific research, yet Henrietta’s remaining family members can barely afford their health insurance. They have not seen a penny of the billions of dollars of revenue that the HeLa cells have created. So the question that is still an issue today is, do we own our own cells and tissue? What sort of consent is required in order for scientists to use our cells?  Are we entitled to earn a portion of the revenue if our cells or tissue are used and sold for scientific research? Scientists, or rather companies,  have fought and won that if people could choose what their cells were used for and received part of the profit for it that it would inhibit scientific research. The counter argument being that research companies are already monopolizing their research for monetary gain and are inhibiting research anyway.

Skloot also detailed the difficult process that she went through in trying to obtain all of this information from the living members of Henrietta’s family. The media had used and abused Henrietta’s family over the years and many of them were angry with what happened to Henrietta and the HeLa cells. They wanted some sort of retribution, and you can’t really blame, so they were hesitant to talk to anyone. Skloot was able to work her way in with Henrietta’s daughter, Debbie, who truly just wanted to know more about her mother and how the whole situation unfolded. While this portion was an interesting and necessary add to the story, I felt that it overtook a little bit near the end. I loved the history and science in this book the most. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health gave Henrietta’s family some control over access to the cells’ DNA code and now 2 members of her family sit on a committee that regulate that code.

Overall the book posed some serious ethical questions that are still in debate today. The book is an amazing and passionate tribute to Henrietta and it has helped to ensure that her short life and sacrifice are not to be forgotten. A portion of the proceeds from purchasing this book are donated The Henrietta Lacks Foundation , which help to provide financial assistance to individuals who have made important contributions to science without their consent.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 336 pages.
Read from May 07 to 26, 2015.

I’m not sure how to classify this book. I guess it’s a history book  of the Indians of North American that also discusses their past and current social and cultural issues. The difference being the style of writing that King has chosen to portray this information. King writes this book like he is having a conversation with you, literally. He even adds tidbits of what his wife Helen would have suggested for certain portions of the book. It’s a bit jarring at first but once you warm up to the style it actually makes for a pleasurable and potent read on some very relevant and important topics.

This was the last book out of the five that I’ve read  for Canada Reads 2015, I will make a post discussing all five of the books next week.

As a white person, I feel that this is a very important book. Growing up in Canada you get your fair share of Native American history throughout your schooling, however I can tell you now after reading this book that the history comes from a very biased, and white, perspective. The history taught in Canadian schools doesn’t touch the half of what has really occurred to the Natives in this country.  This book is important because King gives a voice to the hushed Native Americans of North America and lays out exactly why  the ‘Indian problem’ is still very relevant in today’s society. I think that many non- Natives don’t understand complexity of Native history and why some reservations today are often times filled with Natives that cannot ‘integrate’ into society. King does a phenomenal job of laying out the neutral facts and realities that face may Natives today by detailing their histories that brought them to this point, and why some of the long standing issues that they have to deal with are still not solved.  King’s neutral and relatively pleasant style of writing allows to the reader to approach the  content without getting defensive, for both Natives and non-Natives.

In terms of Canada Reads, I can see why this book was cut first. In comparison to the other books, this one just didn’t hit the theme as much, which is books that break boundaries. Don’t get me wrong this book does break boundaries with it’s writing style and by discussing the Native issues that many try to ignore but in comparison to the other books in the challenge, this one wasn’t as  strong.

Just based on King’s writing style in this book, I am interested to read more by him. He is a captivating writer and I imagine his fiction would be quite good. Overall, I think that any non-Native person born in North America would benefit from reading this book in order to get a greater understanding and appreciation for the groups of people that were here long before us.