Thursday, April 13, 2017

Falling Ill

by C. K. Williams (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
This posthumous collection of poems, written as the author was dying, of multiple myeloma, is a gentle but unflinching confrontation with mortality. Beginning with the moment of diagnosis (“interesting no?”), and signing off with “I want to wish you goodbye but don’t dare,” Williams records the progress of his disease and his halting acceptance of the end of life. A steady lilt, alternately peaceful and hallucinatory, presides over the work, which is devoid of punctuation except for frequent question marks. Uniform in construction, with five three-line stanzas, the poems feel less like a series than like a single valedictory utterance.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Born on the Fourth of July (1976)

In the mid 1960s, suburban New York teenager Ron Kovic enlists in the Marines, fulfilling what he sees as his patriotic duty. During his second tour in Vietnam, he accidentally kills a fellow soldier during a retreat and later becomes permanently paralyzed in battle. Returning home to an uncaring Veterans Administration bureaucracy and to people on both sides of the political divide who don't understand what he went through, Kovic becomes an impassioned critic of the war.

DJE:  This is a powerful book about the Vietnam War, American politics, trauma, paraplegia, activism.  The writing is amazing and memorable.  It is a cry from the heart. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Family Matters (2002)

by Rohinton Mistry
Warm, humane, tender and bittersweet are not the words one would expect to describe a novel that portrays a society where the government is corrupt, the standard of living is barely above poverty level and religious, ethnic and class divisions poison the community. Yet Mistrys compassionate eye and his ability to focus on the small decencies that maintain civilization, preserve the family unit and even lead to happiness attest to his masterly skill as a writer who makes sense of the world by using laughter, as one of his characters observes. Bombay in the mid-1990s, a once-elegant city in the process of deterioration, is mirrored in the physical situation of elderly retired professor Nariman Vakeel, whose body is succumbing to the progressive debilitation of Parkinsons disease. Narimans apartment, which he shares with his two resentful, middle-aged stepchildren, is also in terrible disrepair. But when an accident forces him to recuperate in the tortuously crowded apartment that barely accommodates his daughter Roxana, her husband and two young boys, family tensions are exacerbated and the limits of responsibility and obligation are explored with a full measure of anguish. In the ensuing situation, everyones behavior deteriorates, and the affecting secret of Narimans thwarted lifetime love affair provides a haunting leitmotif. Light moments of domestic interaction, a series of ridiculous comic situations, ironic juxtapositions and tenderly observed human eccentricities provide humorous relief, as the author of A Fine Balance again explores the tightrope act that constitutes life on this planet. Mistry is not just a fiction writer; he's a philosopher who finds meaning-indeed, perhaps a divine plan in small human interactions. This beautifully paced, elegantly expressed novel is notable for the breadth of its vision as well as its immensely appealing characters and enticing plot.  (from Amazon)

DJE:  I loved this book.  It hearkens back to King Lear.  An old man and his daughters.  Family Matters is a commentary on ageing in society and it shows how things are not that different in India than the U.S.  It's also an introduction to the Parsi community in India (a small but influential group).

Life As We Know It (1996)

Berube and Jamie (2014)
by Michael Berube
When Michael Berube's second son Jamie was born with Down syndrome, life as he had known it was gone. Suddenly abstract questions the successful academic and author had been too busy to think about were thrust before him. Berube tells how he and his wife came to know this astonishing new person as their son, an individual like their other son and yet who, to the world, was not an individual but the syndrome itself. Berube intersperses the story of Jamie's development with a critical analysis of society's response to disability, the inadequacies of American health care, and a discussion of such issues as eugenics and the priority society gives to budgeting for the disabled.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Madness: a memoir (2013)

by  Kate Richards

This is an extraordinary book. Richards' style is so immediate that it draws you right into her mind, and it’s kind of terrifying to be there. The language is often very beautiful and gives one the opportunity to learn a lot about the Australian health care system. 

I thought the book should have ended a few chapters before it did — the last few felt tacked on, as though she was stretching for effect, and I wanted it to end with the moment of absolute silence, though I understand why she felt she needed to go on, to provide a kind of closure.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Cure (2016)

by Jo Marchant
“Cure is a cautious, scrupulous investigation of how the brain can help heal our bodies. It is also an important look at the flip side of this coin, which is how brains damaged by stress may make bodies succumb to physical illness or accelerated aging…Cure points a way toward a future in which the two camps [mainstream medicine and alternative therapies] might work together. After all, any medicine that makes a patient better, whether conventional, alternative, or placebo, is simply medicine.”  Wall Street Jouurnal

This a a fascinating, thought-provoking book written by a woman with a Ph.D. in medical microbiology and genetics.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Lucky Life: Interrupted (2016)

by Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw has led a fortunate life, with a strong marriage and family, many friends, and a brilliant journalism career culminating in his twenty-two years as anchor of the NBC Nightly News and as bestselling author. But in the summer of 2013, when back pain led him to the doctors at the Mayo Clinic, his run of good luck was interrupted. He received shocking news: He had multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable blood cancer. Friends had always referred to Brokaw’s “lucky star,” but as he writes in this inspiring memoir, “Turns out that star has a dimmer switch.”

Brokaw takes us through all the seasons and stages of this surprising year, the emotions, discoveries, setbacks, and struggles—times of denial, acceptance, turning points, and courage. After his diagnosis, Brokaw began to keep a journal, approaching this new stage of his life in a familiar role: as a journalist, determined to learn as much as he could about his condition, to report the story, and help others facing similar battles. That journal became the basis of this wonderfully written memoir, the story of a man coming to terms with his own mortality, contemplating what means the most to him now, and reflecting on what has meant the most to him throughout his life.

I listened to this in the Audible edition.  It's a fine book about multiple myeloma,about our health care system and facing serious illness.  It has much to teach.