Drinking Diaries (an anthology)…………..

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The tag line under the title of Drinking Diaries reads “Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up”.  And they do with brutal honestly and reflection.

I bought this book because Jane Friedman has an essay in it. She’s very well known in the world o’ writing and her essays appear on quite a few websites I read regularly. In one essay titled Finding and Longing for Community, Jane comes across as quiet, academic, and maybe even reserved. Of course, I don’t know Jane, but she seems so down to earth and grounded. She is certainly successful in the writing world. So, the fact that she has a drinking story intrigued me. And her essay is intriguing – and quite revealing.

As are all the essays.

I am not really sure how to describe this book. It’s great that it’s an anthology because, not unlike drinking, it’s best served in small doses. The stories are heavy and heart-breaking and real. There is humor sprinkled here and there like an olive adorning a potent cocktail.

If drinking has been a part of your life in any way – even via its absence – I think you will be glad you read these stories. You might also start to see your own drinking in a different way.

A lot of the stories come from the perspective of daughters who were affected by drinking parents. If you are a parent, it’s interesting to see drinking through a child’s lens. If you had a parent who drank (or drinks), the stories might feel pretty raw.

In a very general way, this books feels like an AL-ANON meeting (the support group for those who love an addict). It’s just a simple sharing of stories and experiences without too much judgement. And it’s a great place to start a discussion about drinking in our lives and what affect it really has on those we love and those who love us.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot……

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art from www.amazon.com

This non-fiction story is about the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died from cervical cancer in the early 1950s.

While Henrietta was undergoing treatment for her cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. George Gey  (a researcher) obtained some of her cells – without her knowledge or consent. Those cells were the first human cells to remain “alive” outside of the human body. Sadly, Henrietta died – but miraculously, her cells live on even today.

And the study of those cells has led to amazing advancements in medicine, including the polio vaccine, various cancer treatments, and so much more.

Normally, I read a book with my eyes wide open – but this book I read with my mouth wide open. I simply could not believe the liberties that doctors were allowed (and by the by, still are allowed) to take with human tissues. No consent necessary. Even if they will profit from it.

And it’s not just taking samples – it’s testing. While doctors and researchers were dissecting and analyzing cells outside of Henrietta’s body, other doctors were conducting research – including injecting cancer cells into their patients – without asking permission or forgiveness.

Rebecca Skloot does a lovely job of introducing us to the Lacks family and sharing their journey with us.

It was by complete accident that the Lacks children even learned that Henrietta’s cells were taken from her and being used all over the world. The cells were named HeLa cells (the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names). And they have not profited in any way from their discovery or continued sale – even though they struggle to pay their own medical bills.

This book sounded a little intimidating to me because of the science/research tilt – but Rebecca explains everything so easily that even I (a mere English major) can understand it.

The Lacks family saga saddened me tremendously. In a land where these types of things just aren’t supposed to happen, they simply do happen.

The bottom line for me is – please use my discarded tissue for research if it will help other people, but you really should ask me first if it’s okay. And if you are going to make millions on my tissue, please share at least some of those profits. Yes, thank you.

This is an amazing story and I think you will be very glad you read it!

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

And NPR did a story here.

Suzy’s Case by Andrew Siegel……

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One of my favorite classes in college was Biomedical Ethics. So, when I received a request to review Andrew Siegel’s medical malpractice story titled Suzy’s Case, I jumped at the chance. Plus the main character’s name is Tug Wyler. That’s a fabulouso name for a medical malpractice attorney.

image from www.Amazon.com

The story starts a little slow and it involves a tough set of circumstances to read about. Suzy is a little girl with sickle cell anemia who leaves the hospital in much worse shape than she arrives in – she walks in sick and leaves in a wheelchair, brain damaged and paralyzed. Her mother believes the hospital did something wrong – the hospital suggests Suzy is simply a victim of her own disease and an unfortunate turn of unpreventable medical events.

Tug Wyler is brought onto the case when the original attorney decides after 6 years of litigation that there really isn’t much of a case. Tug is a little crass and very quirky but he is a dedicated attorney looking to get the best results for his clients. Admirably, he tries to distance himself from cases that he knows to be fraudulent. In the beginning of the story, we see Tug  defending his own actions in front of the Disciplinary Committee. He knew one of his clients was lying and refused to represent him in a “zealous” manner as required by the Professional Code of Conduct. This reveals his honest nature and makes him more than just an “ambulance chaser” – which is important given the negative stereotypes surrounding medical malpractice attorneys.

As we meet and get to know Suzy and her mother, it’s hard to not to care about this little girl and to be curious about what exactly happened to her – not only because her story is tragic, but also because medical malpractice is a reality. Sadly, it can happen to anyone. Siegel did a good job of building suspense and answering questions slowly to keep his readers engaged in the story.

The real beauty of this story, though, is its exploration of what Tug is willing to do to ensure justice is served for the victims of medical malpractice. Tug makes decisions that teeter on a delicate balance between defending the truth and bending it.

I have not read a medical malpractice novel before and this was an interesting journey into a complicated and contrived world – where the truth often hides behind self-preservation and big payouts.

This is Andrew Siegel’s debut novel and it was published by Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Defending Jacob by William Landay……..

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

I read Defending Jacob by William Landay for my book club. If you want a book rich with discussion possibilities, this one is it.

Jacob is a high schooler who lives in a small town. In that town, one of his fellow students is murdered. Jacob’s dad is the Defense Attorney on the case – until Jacob is accused of the murder. It turns out that Ben (the murdered boy) was bullying Jacob, giving him quite a motive.

This book opens a lot of avenues of discussion….

  • Nature v. Nuture
  • The Impact of Working Parents
  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Bullying
  • Community Reaction to Crime
  • Murder and Suicide
  • What Defines Normal Behavior in Children
  • What Parents Are Willing/Unwilling to Believe About Their Children

You better serve wine. 8-)

The story was well-paced and I really liked the first half of the book. I felt like Jacob’s story could go either way and I struggled to decide whether Jacob was innocent or guilty. But then the book turns and a lot of surprising things happen. Which is generally good in a book. But this story just had too many twists. It felt contrived and too easy at the same time.

It really would make a good book for any discussion group and maybe even a good book for parents/teenagers to read together. I just wasn’t thrilled with plot development toward the end.

Hi My Name Is Loco and I Am a Racist by Baye McNeil………..

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I met Baye through blogging. He was one of my first followers and one of the first people to really take my blog seriously. He read, he commented, and he complimented.

Thanks Loco!

Baye (aka Loco), of course, has his own blog about living and teaching in Japan. He took his life story and turned it into a memoir called Hi! My Name Is Loco and I Am a Racist.

Baye McNeil's thought on life and racism

I loved Baye’s writing from the first post of his I ever read. Admittedly, initially, I thought he was a little angry. (Sometimes he was.) But he was never dismissive of someone else’s ideas – he was always willing to consider a different point of view. I quickly found the discussion sections of his blog to be the most insightful. And he was open to any question – even silly questions from a white chick like me. And he was open to changing his perspective.

This book of his is no different. He looks at himself in a mirror that most people aren’t willing to hold. Baye shares stories of how he was taught to hate (in defense of being hated) and how he continues to fight those internal demons. He shares how race has impacted many of the relationships in his life, personally and professionally.

Beyond being a open discussion about racial tensions and pressures in America and the world, Baye’s own story is compelling. He grew up in New York, did a stint  in the military and college, and ultimately ended up teaching English in Japan. Baye found the love of his life and lost her. She left him a legacy of encouragement to “write!” and be the real writer he was meant to be. He was in New York City the day the twin towers were brought down and (exactly 9 1/2 years later) he was in Japan the day it rocked with an earthquake that changed the Japanese landscape but not the Japanese people.

Baye’s constant companion throughout his time in Japan is an empty seat on a train. He does a beautiful job of weaving the importance of this unlikely character throughout his memoir. She buffers him and angers him and teaches him to dig for the truth.

Ultimately, what I enjoyed most about this book is the way that it showcases how overwhelming stereotypes can be and how insignificant they become in one-on-one relationships. And I love how Baye constantly looks for (and generally finds) the good in others and in himself.

I highly recommend this book as a fabulous tale and a needed lesson. You can purchase it here. I myself have a signed copy. (Don’t hate ;-)  )

Follow him on Twitter @Locohama.

Smooches Baye – great job!

If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away… By Bruce Farell Rosen

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.) Bruce Farell Rosen

Bruce Farrell Rosen’s memoir outlines the major events of his life. In If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away, he shares his connections to music, sports, writing, traveling, his family, and above all his mother.

At the beginning of the book, we learn that the strength of Bruce’s marriage is teetering. He tells us that he had an affair with a woman he met when he was buying a piano in New York for his son. The piano was to be a graduation gift from him and his wife to their son. The relationship understandably created a rift in his marriage and he struggles with mixed feelings about his wife throughout the book. He wants to make his wife happy (and even feels responsible for her happiness) but cannot commit to their relationship.

He shares that “perhaps (for his ex-wife) the thought of being here without romance was too painful a consideration. She wasn’t interested at all, though I did try; I so much want her to be happy, to enjoy life in its richness. Sometimes I am so sad that she is sad.” He goes on to say, ” She cannot be my medicine, but often, I would like to be hers. And when I try, I get pulled into a place of sadness from which it can take a few days to emerge. I strive to observe borders, to recognize limitations, but the lines are often amorphous – emotions, thoughts, feelings just spilling over like a faucet that continues to pour into an already-full glass.”

Bruce also writes a lot about his mother and his special relationship with her. She was a seer and tremendously important in Bruce’s life. He believes that her death was a troublesome turning point in his life. Her absence weighs heavily on him. Bruce tells us “God, I know, truly does give us just as much and no more than we can handle at any moment in time. The loss of my mom will take a lifetime to digest, so profound was her influence.”

It seems as though Bruce battles with depression at times, or at least intense sadness. The book has a maudlin feel to it. The connections to music, sports, foreign cities, and world events are certainly interesting. And it is clear that Bruce cares a great deal about the people in his life.

But the book’s 600 pages are just a lot. I think the story could have been told in about half of its current page count.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain…..

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

The Paris Wife is a novel but, in the epilogue, Paula McLain tells her readers that she tried to mirror the true story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, as much as possible. The story takes us through the first marriage of Hadley and Ernest and their exciting beginnings in Paris.

The story is very well-written and the characters are entertaining. Wonderful literary personalities like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald dance across the pages. We learn about Paris in the 20’s and the artists who journeyed to the city to hone their talents with like-minded souls. And we learn, maybe a little too much, about the famed Ernest Hemingway.

There is a lot to really like about this book, however, the story is just sad. Hadley tells us in the beginning that things won’t work out – but I wanted to believe I read it wrong – that I had confused myself with the silly truth of it all. But she did tell the truth and so the whole journey has a melancholy overlay that never dissipates.

Reading this book is a bit like watching sugar dissolve in clear water. There is the promise of sweetness, but we realize the crystals can  mostly only sink, their load too heavy for the frigid water to gracefully absorb it. In the end, we are just left with a cloudy, murky mess.

If you are mad at your spouse, wait to read this book. Otherwise, dive in. You’ll will be glad you read it.