Finally: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Yesterday, on an adventure that included accidentally finding the worst lamb gyro in Trinidad and Tobago, I found myself in a bookstore in a mall.

The selections are generally dismal in Trinidad for me, which is unfair since I have read much in my life and it’s hard to find things that appeal to me. Still, the name on that cover. Is it? Could it be?

I began thumbing through the pages when the clerk at the store asked me if I needed help, something that always boggles my mind, and I mentioned that I was wondering if this is the same woman who had cancer and whose cells continue to be used in research around the world.

To my surprise, the clerk said, “Yes, it is! One of our customers bought the book and when she came back she told me all about it!”. I was surprised that she knew. I’d been aware since Daniel J. Solove mentioned it in one of his books on Privacy, and this is a bit of a landmark.

More people should read Daniel J. Solove’s works on Privacy.

I have barely started the book, one that has been on my reading list for some time but I just never remembered to get in a world that comes at us so quickly. Keeping current on the world in many ways is important and impossible at the same time, and sometimes without the opportunity some things slip through the cracks. This was an opportunity.

The book is old by modern standards (2010; 13 years old) but Rebecca Skloot did a lot of ground research and took pains to quote people as they spoke to give us a window into the time period, which is before my own.

Henrietta Lacks even beyond her death continues to save lives – but she and her family never saw a penny (as far as I know right now). There is a lawsuit between her estate and Thermo Fischer Scientific Inc which I intend to follow up on as time permits.

Imagine someone publishing your grandparents DNA publicly. That seems like one of the more ultimate invasions of privacy.

It will be good to read the how in the when. Having barely made it into the book, I will say the author certainly has not stolen the time from this piece, which I think is an important thing for us to understand because without that, we can’t look at what’s happening now and understand some of the implications.

The Reading Tax: Trinidad and Tobago.

The last copy I'm buying. Too many given away or stolen.While we live in an era where digital books are prevalent, and I have many of them, there are certain books that I like to have physically. And I like to have them in hardcover because, if a book is worth having physically, it’s worth having the hardcover.

So I ordered the book on the right through the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. It’s somewhat rare as seen, so it ended up costing me $58 U.S. from a third party vendor through I got it today, after Aeropost covered customs for me – which cost an additional $24.39 US (or $164.35 TT).

All in all, this specific book cost me $82.39 US, or $555.18 TT. It’s something I’m willing to pay for; it’s an important book for me.

Still, that is a little pricey, isn’t it? If it wasn’t important to me, I wouldn’t bother.

I recalled that Nigel Khan’s bookstore used to do special orders years ago, and I thought maybe it would be worth exploring – they do, after all, import books. So I wandered into Southpark and asked the lady about it, and she said ‘yes’. I provided her a few titles I wanted in hardcover, English translations… and started off with ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (Paulo Freire).

She dutifully tapped away at her keyboard, then asked me to come around and choose which edition I wanted. When I wandered around, my mind’s internal jaw dropped.

I was staring at’s page search for ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.

Still, this was an experiment and I wanted to see where this would go. Maybe they had a better deal for me. Maybe it would be something worthwhile, maybe there would be some value added to me somehow. So I chose the 50th year anniversary hardcover of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, which I saw was clearly was $64.47 US.

And we worked through the other book – Musashi’s, “Book of Five Rings”.

Then, she whipped out her calculator – because no one uses the calculator on the computer they access the Internet on (there’s money down the tubes) – and she started working out the pricing.

Now, I paid about 30% markup on the Douglas Adams book myself, which is pretty steep for any book – but let’s work with a 30% markup. So, at $64.47 US, I should be looking at about $84 US to bring the book in. That’s about $566-570 TT.  In my head, I averaged roughly $575 TT, which wasn’t too far off as I write this.

That solar powered calculator had other numbers in mind.

It spoke with the woman’s voice and told me $1200 TT/$180 US.

For a $65 US book. For something I could bring in myself for roughly $84 US.

What?! For one book? That’s effectively buying the same book almost 3 times and getting only one copy. I buy the government a copy they don’t get, I buy the bookstore a copy they don’t get, and I get one.

I’ll bring it in myself when I’m ready. Or, at those prices, maybe I should fly to the U.S. and bring in a suitcase of books.

Everybody knows it.

But people in Trinidad and Tobago, largely, know this. And this is one aspect of living in small economy with little purchasing power, subject to pricing necessary to maintain a business presence in Trinidad and Tobago based on importation. I can get screwed by the government alone by bringing it in myself, or I can get screwed by the government who subsequently screws a business that’s screwing me.

Yet not everyone can order the books off of Amazon – foreign exchange is a commodity unto itself in Trinidad and Tobago. So if you want a book and you can’t get the foreign exchange together, which is just about everybody these days, you get charged about 3 times the book price for a special order.

And can everyone afford that? No.

Reading in Trinidad and Tobago seems to have become a luxury. We live in a global information economy, and these prices for books in the Trinidad and Tobago Information Fiefdom do not bode well for the future.