Friday, October 12, 2007

FLU by Gina Kolata

The Book: Gina Kolata, FLU: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999 (fourth printing, 2000). Book is in fine condition.
First read: 2000
Owned since: 2000

Yes, I'm a hypochondriac. Anyone who's curious is bound to be, don't you think? You see a red spot on your forehead, and the obvious answer -- zit -- is no challenge. Wouldn't it be more interesting if it were an obscure jungle fungal infection? Especially if you've never been to a jungle? How would that happen, anyway?

It's also a form of magical thinking, because I seldom go to doctors. If I imagine the worst, it won't happen, a kind of psychic inoculation. I would not say that I am doctor-phobic, but I am doctor-averse, despite having lifelong friends who are doctors. This is stupid and annoying, I know, and contrary to my own best interests. I'm as stupid and annoying and self-destructive as the next person. Well, not if the next person is eating fast food on the subway and talking loudly on a cell phone, but I digress.

Anyway, books like this one are crack to me -- just as addictive, just as dangerous. The 1918 flu epidemic in the United States started at Camp Devers, Massachusetts on September 7. Within a week, it had jumped to Boston; within two weeks, it was all over New England. Before the end of the month, it was everywhere, as relatives arrived from around the country to visit the sickest boys at Camp Devers, and contagious soldiers accompanied their comrades' caskets home. For reasons scientists are still investigating, it hit young people and pregnant women hardest, when these are usually the most disease-resistant segments of a population.

Flu spends less time on the history of the outbreak than on the story of the researchers who have spent the last 80 years trying to figure out where flu comes from, what made the 1918 strain so virulent, and what that outbreak taught public officials about how to handle future outbreaks (or not -- swine flu, anyone?).

I thought of this book because my local drugstore is offering flu shots next week, and I still haven't decided whether to get one. When Mom was sick, we all had to get them so that we didn't risk exposing her; I didn't get one last year, and wasn't sick all winter. I know these things are not related, but there's that magical thinking again.

Tomorrow is the Deans' Annual Apple Butter Festival in Mechanicsville -- hurray! -- so I will be up and out very early, and probably won't blog again until Sunday.

What I Read This Week

Most of my reading time this week was spent on manuscripts...

Alison Gaylin, YOU KILL ME. A year after the September 11 attacks, pre-school teacher/box-office worker Samantha Leiffer has a deadly stalker. Her boyfriend, NYPD detective John Krull, is mysteriously withdrawn, but he couldn't be--? The mysteries here are plausible and scary, and You Kill Me is one of the best treatments of 2002 New York I've seen. Samantha is a great, fresh voice, and I'd hope to see her again if it didn't mean putting her back in danger.

Lawrence Block, ME TANNER, YOU JANE. HarperCollins is reprinting all of the Tanner novels in paperback, and I'm catching up with the ones I haven't read. This book finds the quixotic mercenary/spy/insomniac hacking his way through Africa with a teenaged girl, in pursuit of a dangerous white woman who leads a guerrilla army. The publication date on this book is 1970, and it's very much a product of its time, but great escapist fare.


steve said...

This post reminded me of a book by Erik Larson called Isaac's Storm. He did another one about some psycho mass murderer at one of the World's Fairs. Anyway you might like them.


AnswerGirl said...

That's THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, which I thought was terrific. I haven't read ISAAC'S STORM or THUNDERSTRUCK, but they're on the list ...