In a month whose major holiday is themed around treats, I am taking a moment to describe the literary equivalent of a pumpkin full of Reese’s peanut butter cups. Lauren Redniss’ book, Radioactive, narrates the life of Marie Curie and the evolution of radiology. Some of the writing is chronological, but as a reader sees upon opening the book, nothing, whether a sentence or a story element, follows a straight line.
Let me put on my book critic hat and I’ll tell you why Radioactive is such a treat.
Smart. Her sources are many and her annotation, appreciated. An expert storyteller, Redniss used the rich details found through archival research to reveal a complex and fascinating history of radiology.
Expressive. In case you haven’t looked inside of Radioactive, it’s not a regular book. The amount of text on a page and the shape in which the text appears varies widely. Through her drawings, color, text arrangement, and even designing her own font, which she named after a spiritualist with whom the Curies associated, Redniss expresses her vision of the story so creatively that I knew a lot about both Marie Curie and Redniss herself by the time I was finished reading.
Fun and experiential. It was just plain old fun to read. The nuggets of knowledge Redniss shared were radiating out of a drawing’s head, mirroring a silhouette on the opposite page, or sometimes intermingling so seamlessly with images that you absorbed both simultaneously. Following the flow of text, experiencing the surprise of what might greet you after a page turn, lingering over carefully and creatively chosen images, all of these things made the 200-page book into a reader’s playground.
The book’s tagline is also worth mentioning. “A tale of love and fallout.” Brilliant. As my grandmother would’ve said, I’m just tickled about the whole thing. If you’re looking for some eye candy this October, treat yourself to Radioactive.