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ramgarali's picture

     After skimming  through “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”,  a group of glossy picture pages assembled at the middle of the book caught my eye. These are pictures of HL’s family and where she was raised etc.  arranged in a chronological order. I asked myself why all these images had to be in the middle of the book and not in different sections(for the sake of the chronology established by the author). I believe this assortment of pictures in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” could’ve been better organized so that it could be a more efficient “break(s)” in the reading. As a reader I would’ve preferred to know a little bit about the life of Henrietta the woman during her lifetime before reading about Henrietta's cells. (Glossy pages 1-3) and implement the remaining glossy pages at the end of the section the author makes reference to that particular event (s) instead of putting them all in an additional  “Where are they now?” section (about her family) which would only apply to glossy pages 7-8.

I must admit that I enjoy having pictures interrupt my reading for the purpose of enriching my experience. 


EGrumer's picture

Finding photographs

I like having pictures in books, too.  Pictures, including some of the ones in the book, form a poignant thread in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  There are all these instances of remembering and forgetting, photographs lost and rediscovered.  No one seems to recall how the most famous picture of Henrietta, standing with her hands on her hips, ended up in her medical file.  Possibly she gave it to one of the scientists.  Deborah has never seen it until it is reprinted in a science textbook that someone hands her.  Later, Deborah and Rebecca find a picture of Elsie, when they are investigating Elsie's brief life.  The photographs, assigning faces to names, seems to fit in with identity; for about twenty years, HeLa is a huge deal and yet Henrietta is completely anonymous, with even her name unknown, let alone what she looked like.

I didn't think anything of finding the pictures in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks all in the center of the book.  That's where I've always found pictures, in nonfiction books like biographies; if the book is really long, there might be two sections of pictures, with chapters between them, but the pictures are always in the middle.  I suspect that it is easiest to do things this way, for the publishers, and consequently cheaper.  Because I'm used to it, I didn't think of having the pictures anywhere else, until I read this post.  I suppose that this is a genre convention of the nonfiction book, that illustrations are collected in the middle of the book.  And, perhaps, it is also a sign of another theme from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: that people usually don't think to question the authority of that which has always been.