The 2010 Wellcome Book Prize nominees: new medical fiction/nonfiction

i-2e2e588aa8f035ba8c08b104cd0e935b-HenriettaLacks.jpgThe Wellcome Trust book prize honors books that "bring together the worlds of medicine and literature."

This year's recipient was none other than Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - a well-deserved win for a nuanced exploration of the tensions between pure research, medical ethics, and social injustice (with a meta-message about the role of the science journalist in telling these kinds of stories).

Some of the other books on the Wellcome shortlist were new to me, so I wanted to highlight them in case you're interested in some holiday reading. But I'll be honest, this list doesn't sound very cheery. . .

Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks:

"There's a terrific little scene that encapsulates the quotidian humiliations of western medical practice. Parks is walking to a cubicle in an Italian hospital with his cup, when the nurse, at the other end of the crowded corridor, yells in that voice reserved for foreigners presumed not to understand the local lingo: "SPERM! MAKE SURE THE FIRST DROPS GO IN THE CONTAINER! IT'S THE FIRST DROPS THAT COUNT WITH SPERM!" (from the review)

Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox by Gareth Williams

Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson:

At 10 she was still tiny enough to be put in a baby swing. She dangled in it miserably, though her family were convinced she loved it: "It makes her feel a part of things." As the novel unfolds, we get used to this radical mismatch between Grace's inner life, which we are privy to, and her effect in the world outside. It's as if a wall is built around her, preventing her from reaching out. The wall is language.(from the review)

Medic: Saving Lives - From Dunkirk to Afghanistan by John Nichol and Tony Rennell

So Much for That: A Novel by Lionel Shriver:

Shep Knacker, the protagonist of Lionel Shriver's latest novel, "So Much for That," believes his life will begin in earnest only when he quits the rat race and moves to Pemba, an island off the coast of Tanzania whose principal attraction is the low cost of living. Or, as Shep thinks of it, "The third world was running a sale: two lives for the price of one." Never mind that he built his own company and then sold it for a million dollars. Shep persists in feeling like "an indentured servant." He wants his liberty, he tells his wife, trying to sell her on the merits of his plan: "I want to buy myself." Her reply: "But liberty isn't any different from money, is it?" (from the NY Times review)

Wow. . . the medical fiction/nonfiction field isn't exactly full of uplifting escapist beach reading, is it? I think I may re-read The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet: A Novel instead!

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