Reading List by Jayne
Here’s a quick recap of some of my recent reads and ones I’m slowly working on.
Just before dawn on a Sunday morning, three teenage boys go surfing. Returning home, exhausted, the driver lets the car drift off the road into a tree. Two of the boys are wearing seat belts; one is sent through the windshield. He is declared brain-dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. His heart is still beating.
The Heart takes place over the twenty-four hours surrounding a fatal accident and a resulting heart transplant as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death. In gorgeous, ruminative prose it examines the deepest feelings of everyone involved–grieving parents, hardworking doctors and nurses–as they navigate decisions of life and death. As stylistically audacious as it is emotionally explosive, Maylis de Kerangal’s The Heart has mesmerized readers in France, where it has been hailed as the breakthrough work of a new literary star.
Robin mentioned this book in one of her Daily News posts but what drew me to read this was the mention, in the blurb, about organ donation. I’ve never been involved with making this decision and was curious as to how it would be handled. How does one go about asking the grieving for such a (momentous, horrific, selfless, amazing – pick your adjective) thing? How does the whole process, the realization of what is being asked affect them? Because this book is not about the dead, it’s about the living. It’s about thinking of death, of the fears and taboos that go along with it. Confronting our fears, facing our own mortality, family emotion in the face of clinical medicine. It’s also about life. Who gets these organs? Who gets to move out from under a sentence of waiting and then on with their lives?
Who is the narrator? Most is told in third person present tense. But there is a bit, one line, that sounds like the narrator finally interjecting him/herself into the telling – questioning what the parents are thinking in that lull before making their decision.
The writing is lyrical but also clinical and, in a way, detached. Like a doctor would deliver bad news, which in this book is exactly what happens. The description of the atmosphere and events at the hospital are nailed from wandering the labyrinthine halls to find where you’re going to the beeps and alarms of the machines to the rumpled scrubs worn by exhausted doctors and nurses. I find the medical stuff fascinating (I used to be a Discovery Channel “Trauma: Life in the ER” fanatic) as well as how the medical team and family react to the events. Their stream-of-consciousness musings or excessive background information inserted where there’s no point to it are more annoying to me than anything else.
The story is compelling and once I got going with it – well, aside from the random musings that would slip down a side road for 1-3 pages before joining back to the main road of the narrative – I didn’t want to put it down, especially as the surgeries began. And once it swung into the homestretch with the heart being transplanted, I was almost holding my breath in a race to the finish. If you have an interest in medicine or in questions about mortality, life, grief and wonder, then I would recommend it. But beware of the occasional Proustian sidesteps along the way. B
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that’s ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a person to sacrifice her marriage or career for an accumulation of seemingly useless things? Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago. They didn’t expect that they would end up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of hoarders. Their vivid case studies (reminiscent of Oliver Sacks) in Stuff show how you can identify a hoarder—piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders “churn” but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage—and illuminate the pull that possessions exert over all of us. Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to extremes.
This is an interesting look at the psychology behind various hoarding personalities. Each chapter features a new type of hoarding rational with a main and some secondary examples. Homes and apartments are described as well as the people who live in them. I think the authors are very careful to separate the person from the disorder and treat both with dignity. With some cases, they and their colleagues are able to help the hoarder begin to understand what is behind the behavior and begin to let go of it and the hoarded material. In other cases, the people aren’t ready yet or interested in beginning treatment. There is a degree of repetition in that the condition of habitats are detailed but though the end result is often the same – hoards of items and an impinged lifestyle/relationships – the reasons behind why people begin and continue to hoard are many and varied. There are even chapters on how this behavior affects children of hoarders and about children who are hoarders themselves. Some hoarders even hoard emails and have computers “stuffed” with files. They outline the reasons why forced clean ups are rarely of long term benefit and how extended an amount of time (in many cases, years) it generally takes to begin to try to control this compulsion and also mentions that many hoarders seem to view the world differently – more creatively and productively. But still, when stuff begins to take over a life and leads to intense distress, it’s no longer a sign of something positive but rather something pathological.
We might own our possessions, but our possessions are beginning to own us. B
Phaedra, a dutiful daughter of Rome’s most influential senator, has no choice but to marry a man chosen by her father. But a chance encounter with handsome gladiator Valens Secundus sends her pulse racing—and, for the first time, makes her wish she could choose her own fate. They make each other a promise: she’ll insist on having the right to select her next husband, and he’ll do everything within his power to win his freedom.
A gladiatorial champion, Valens has fought his way up from poverty to become a star in the arena. The only two things he craves are his freedom and the luscious Phaedra, both seemingly far out of reach. But four years after their fateful meeting, Phaedra returns to Rome and soon becomes a widow, and Valens answers to no one but himself. They’re finally free to explore their fiery passion—while evading a powerful and wealthy new suitor of Phaedra’s—until Valens must return to the arena one last time. And in order for Phaedra to control her own destiny and claim her love, Valens will need to survive the battle of his life.
This is another selection I discovered from our Daily Deals. I checked out the sample and was psyched by what I read. The characters seemed interesting, the situation realistic and I clicked the buy button feeling I was good to go. Well, the first fourth of the book was okay, though with a few historical detail niggles I found questionable. Still these were not bad enough to stop me continuing reading.
There seemed to be a connection between our hero and heroine even though he was a gladiator slave and she a patrician wife. Valens thinks in terms of a trained fighter and Phaedra as a sheltered upper class women. There is a potential villain who actually doesn’t seem too bad and Phaedra’s husband seems like an okay guy. All righty.
Then comes the four year separation. Lots of other important things have happened to Valens and Phaedra, none of which we get to see. Though not much time passes in this section, it seems endless. Our hero and heroine meet in the market and are excruciatingly, almost boringly, correct. Fine, that does make sense as they are of different classes and haven’t seen each other in ages. Then Valens and Phaedra fall into bed that very night after they meet after that long apart and it’s insta-sexy times. Hmmm.
At this point the villain reveals his true weaselly colors and begins to pour his evil over everyone. I also realize I’m still bored. Life and death via a subplot with Valens’s sister is on the line here and I could care less. I flipped forward to the end and realized I still had over half the book of nothing but this stuff which was already boring me which is when I tossed in the towel. This is a disappointing DNF.
It’s rare for someone to emerge in America who can change our attitudes, our beliefs, and our very culture. It’s even rarer when that someone is a middle-aged, six-foot three-inch woman whose first exposure to an unsuspecting public is cooking an omelet on a hot plate on a local TV station. And yet, that’s exactly what Julia Child did. The warble-voiced doyenne of television cookery became an iconic cult figure and joyous rule-breaker as she touched off the food revolution that has gripped America for more than fifty years.
I’m taking this one in 100 page chunks as it formats to over 700 pages on my ereader. It’s a fascinating biography of Julia Child. The opening is hilarious and depicts her TV debut on a WGBH PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) show that interviewed authors on which she cooked an omelet and charmed everyone on set and in the audience. I’m halfway through right now and enchanted with her. Reading this has actually got me pondering buying her groundbreaking books and trying my hand at French cooking.
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts–Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak–that we owe many of the great contributions to society.
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts–from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.
This is another book I’m reading a bit at a time. Oh, I wish this had been published for me to read when I was in grade school. Or even read to me when I was in elementary school and my teachers kept telling/asking my parents – “why won’t she speak up?” “I can’t get her to say anything in class.” “She needs to contribute more to discussions.” “She’s so quiet.” Well, yes. I’m an introvert. The good news for parents of kids like me is that apparently Cain has adapted this book for young readers and its due out this summer (“Quiet Power” from Penguin Young Readers).
The opening chapters here are focused a lot on how businesses – especially in the US – seem to worship on the altar of extroverts yet how often it’s introverts working alone who have come up with the goods for them. Open office space and constant brainstorming – bah, phooey! Tell me I have to “role play” and watch me wither in dismay. Cain’s story about attending a Tony Robbins’ seminar is both hilarious and horrifying. I’m just getting to the section on nature or nurture or both and how bosses are clueing in to the fact that forcing groupthink might stifle the very creativity they’re trying to encourage. Meanwhile if more introverts had been working at the big Wall Street financial institutes, perhaps the 2008 meltdown might not have been quite as bad. And who knew there are shy fruit flies?