I updated the sidebar a few weeks ago. Some of the books deserve a special mention. Although I'm not in the mood for in depth reviews, I want to be sure that the readers among you (that's all of you, right?) don't miss out on some very special treats. Hence, these mini-reviews.
My reading list over the holidays was mostly James Patterson and other beach books; they were all my brain could handle amidst The Brownie List and FlapJilly's visit and Big Cuter's enticements to play Guillotine and Mille Bornes. I started On Pluto just before the anniversary of my perforation; I had to have TBG hide it away so that Greg O'Brien's tragedy didn't impinge on my own.
His book is raw and unflinching and funny in the way that outrageous suffering with no solution can be funny. It's the kind of funny you laugh at in your darkest moments. What am I laughing about? Believe me, you don't want to know. I can't imagine how that must feel. Please, don't. You don't want those feelings, believe me.
Greg O'Brien's description of living with early onset Alzheimers is that kind of funny, the kind of funny that leaves you shaking your head in gratitude that his adventures on the riding lawn mower involved damage only to hedges and flower beds. I understood the need to continue to participate in the things that make life worth living, but I wonder about the wisdom of letting an impaired person drive a tractor.... or an automobile, for that matter. His descriptions of short trips turning into long adventures because his brain thought it was a good idea made me quail on the couch. There were other people on the road, for crying out loud. Did no one give any thought to the damage he could have done had his hallucinations decided to show him a bridge to nowhere.... that he decided to cross?
The author was here in Tucson today; I couldn't make myself attend the luncheon. JannyLou thought it would be too dark and declined my invitation; the more I thought about it, the righter her decision seemed to be. I didn't want to yell at a man facing a horrible end to a marvelous life, but I couldn't seem to get past it.
The book, given all that bloviating on my part, is a wonderfully warm and thoughtful trip down Loss of Memory Lane. There's not much in the way of deep philosophy, but the day to day struggles and triumphs and surprises made it a worthwhile read. For deeper thoughts, and, ultimately, an even sadder journey, look to When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
A brilliant young neuroscientist/neurosurgeon/author/husband/father/friend was teetering at the top of his career, ready to jump off into any number of absolutely perfect futures when a chest x-ray revealed Stage 4 Lung Cancer. He didn't survive, and that leaves a hole in this world which seems irreplaceable.
Dr. Kalanithi's life was defined by his search for the connection between the brain and the mind - which creates which? Is the mind a result of chemical connections, of synapses and blood flow, or is there a less tangible, looser (scientifically) but more potent (philosophically) explanation. Air becomes breath when it enters and exits the body... and breath becomes air when the body can no longer respond.
It's thoughts like those that kept me reading slowly and carefully, but this is not a dry, pedantic tale. Rather, it is filled with moments like these: When his wife asked if having a baby would make his parting all that much more difficult, he said "And wouldn't that be wonderful!" The ability to find joy right there in the middle of the sorrow is the reason you should read this book.
Finally, in this list of non-fiction, difficult but necessary, touching but not overly sentimental books, comes Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. This is the book you read when you need to have The Conversation with your aging parents, or with your adult children. Using his physician father as just one example, he explores the hidden corners of dealing with the frail but functional elderly. Who should stay at home and who should decide what level of care is needed? Where do you draw the line between safety and independence? Do wishes trump everything, or can a guardian angel swoop in and fix it all?
Gawande doesn't have all the answers, but he shows you how to ask the questions. His descriptions made me feel better about the care we gave G'ma, and about the way we got there. If you are worried, start here.
Soon, I'll write about the fiction I read. It stretched my brain and made me think, which was a pleasant if exhausting change from James Patterson and the Kellermans and Ace Atkins. For now, though, I'm going to enjoy a lovely weekend with my sweetie. Come back on Monday so I can tell you about Lewis Black; we're going to see him on Saturday night.