Monday, June 14, 2010

A Walk Through the Morgue with Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot's name is a well-known one in the book blogging community and the world at large after the publication of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Admittedly, I haven't read it yet. My time with the library's copy came and went before I could finish, but I will most definitely get it back!

While our time together was far too limited, I found something I liked in Rebecca Skloot's writing style from only a few pages. Her writing about science is really readable. Whether you're a student in a science class or a reader with a science book in hand, the last thing we really want is a monotone lecture. Rebecca Skloot is far from that writer or lecturer.

When I wandered into Barnes and Noble to download my free Nook content a while ago (April-something), I was tickled to find that one of the offerings was a short essay by Skloot. Titled, "Veterinary Morgues to Immortal Cells: My Path to Writing About Science," I wasn't sure it was for me. I'm the girl who shies away from ANY movie with a dog in it because, let's face it, 96.4% of the time, the dog dies. Bastard movie-makers! Same thing with books. I rarely invest my time loving a book dog because he or she is just gonna get whacked. However, this essay's title was just too much for me to pass up, so I downloaded it.

It's short--almost microscopic--at only four pages, but it's a quick drive-by of how Skloot came to write about science. She went to school to attend the pre-veterinary program at Colorado State and decided to take Creative Writing simply to fulfill her school's foreign language requirement. How creative writing can stand in for Spanish, French, or German, I'm not sure. She doesn't go into detail there. Personally, I realize we creative writer types speak another language sometimes, but COME ON.


She works in the school's animal morgue which is stuffed to the proverbial gills (no pun intended, but I realize it and I'm going with it) with corpses of the animals used to train the vet students. She writes an essay for her class about the wrongs of this practice, how the school should invest in computer programs to simulate dissection, and her entire creative writing class--a bunch of non-science majors--get their panties in a twist and write the dean to stop the evil, animal-killing practices on campus.

Voila! Skloot finds herself a love of writing and getting people fired up about science. In short, that's how The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came to be. It was great to read such a wonky story of how one notable writer came to love and excel at her craft. So many writers just knew from the beginning that they were supposed to write. They'd shrivel up and die without it. Rebecca Skloot, on the other hand, found her love of writing in the morgue. Go figure.

Visit Rebecca Skloot's blog.


  1. I've read so much about this book but have never heard these tidbits about the author. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. Who knew a great book could be born in the morgue?

  2. Fascinating story! I'm currently working on a post about my thoughts about "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and would like to link to this post if that's ok!

  3. How funny that she took creative writing to fulfill her foreign language part. Now if that had been available at my school for math courses I would have been all over the creative writing courses! haha

    I really want to read this book but just haven't gotten around to it.

  4. Kathleen, I loved this tidbit! Loved it. But I'm always a sucker for those behind-the-scenes bits from authors.

    Valerie, I'd be tickled if you linked back to my post. Very much looking forward to your thoughts on the book.

  5. Iliana, me too! I would've done anything to skip right over math.

  6. I love making-of stories for authors and books too! That's why annotated versions of books make me so happy (if they're good annotations).

  7. This is the first I've heard of this essay but it sounds interesting. I loved The Immortal Life . . . so I am interested in reading this if only because Skloot wrote it.

  8. I almost never stop by B&N with my nook...I need to make that a habit!

  9. This is the first i'm hearing about this book, (essay?) and now I really want to read it.

  10. One of my co-workers read this when it first came out and said it was fantastic. I've had a few customers tell me the same. I think it'd be a great book club selection and I hope to get everyone in my group to agree to read it when it comes out in paperback.

  11. Jenny, you're so right. Good annotations are golden, but the bad ones are usually really bad.

    Lola, I know what you mean. If I hadn't already been interested in Skloot I'm not sure I would've read it myself.

    Jill, you would probably love it. The free in-store content is awesome, and I like the extended reading opportunity to try out any e-book in-store for an hour.

    SilverNeurotic, it is a short essay (only four pages), and I'm not sure it's available to non-Nook owners, but it'd be worth a Google search. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is definitely a book worth trying from what I've read so far.

    Les, that's a great idea. I think it'd be a wonderful book club choice. Very discussable, I would think. Chuck and I got into a great conversation about "immortal" cells just by my telling him about the book! :)


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