In 2009, Sarah Gray, 35, and her husband Ross, were ecstatic to learn that she was pregnant with twins. The road to parenthood opened ahead of them. BIn 2009, Sarah Gray, 35, and her husband Ross, were ecstatic to learn that she was pregnant with twins. The road to parenthood opened ahead of them. But it was not long before Gray would be informed that one of her twins had a rare condition, anencephaly, a failure of the skull and brain to form properly, leaving the developing brain unprotected. The causes of this rare condition are not well understood. The diagnosis was grim. Thomas Ethan Gray’s life, if he got to have one at all, would be a very short one.
Sarah Gray - from Ted talks
Gray was not your garden variety horrified parent-to-be. She was working at the time at the National Institute for the Severely Disabled, where she had established the AbilityOne Speakers Bureau, helping secure speaking opportunities for disabled people of diverse sorts, and helping them craft their stories. Her mother was a nurse in Boston. She experienced the devastation anyone in her position would suffer. But Gray’s professional experience and connections, and access to medical intel from within her own family gave her a firmer base of knowledge from which to inform her response. When she realized that it would be possible for some of Thomas’s organs to be used to help others she set about making it happen, giving the loss she and her husband would experience and the short life her baby would know new meaning.
Gray’s case was unusual in that Thomas’s donations were used for research, not transplant. After a short period of time, she grew curious about how they were being put to use, so began tracking where they had gone. Once she identified the places, she started calling and asking to tour their facilities, a totally new thing for those labs. It is not unusual for the families of transplant donors to contact recipients, sometimes building lasting relationships, but it was pretty much unheard of for the families of organ donors to get in touch with research labs to see how the donations were being used.
Thomas Ethan Gray - from Radiolab
One thing Gray found on this quest was that the researchers were thrilled to hear from a donor’s family, heartily welcoming the interest. Unlike the transplant world, there is almost never a face or a name to put to a research donation. But lives are saved as a result of such gifts, particularly when there is an acute shortage of research material, which there often is.
There are several elements to A Life Everlasting. Sarah and Ross’s experience as expectant parents is beautifully told, and is as moving as one could hope for. There is enough stress entailed in having a first child. I know. But adding the harsh decisions that the couple had to face was truly a heavy burden. Thomas’s birth, short life, and passing are among the most moving passages I have ever read. Have a box of tissues at the ready.
Sarah with hubby, Ross, and son, Callum - from NBC News
But this is not, ultimately, a sad book. It is a hugely hopeful and uplifting one. And in Sarah Gray learning about what is possible, she educates us as well. She pushed the boundaries of what the families of donors could know, which will benefit not only those families, but everyone. When people are aware that their loved one’s remains might be able to help others, more are likely to choose donation instead of immediate burial. And researchers facing a shortage of needed materials will be better able to move ahead with their work if more people choose this option.
"The way I see it our son got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a job. He is relevant to the world. I only hope my life can be as relevant." - from the Philly.com article
Gray adds the stories of some other people, including parents of donors, and a beneficiary of research that advanced life-extending treatment as a result of having access to such donations. Each is moving in its own way, and together, they support the message that many more people need to be aware of the potential benefits to be had from donations of this sort. Losing a child is all too common. Unfortunate things happen, but there can still be some silver linings to even the darkest clouds.
The book touches on some closely related topics as well. There are some inherent conflicts between the demand for transplantable organs and the need for many of the same organs for research. Gray points out some of the advances that such research has produced, using donations like Thomas’s. She also notes in closing the emergence of new gene editing technology (CRISPR) that may offer science the ability to repair genetic damage before a child is born. Gray’s position is very much pro. "If you have the skills and the knowledge to fix these diseases," Gray said at a 2015 conference on gene-editing, "then freaking do it." But opinions vary as to the overall risks involved in such tampering. There is considerable controversy about how such tools might be applied. I included a link about this in EXTRA STUFF.
As a result of her quest and the ensuing attention she was paid by local and national media, Gray moved on to a new position. She is now Director of Communications for the American Association of Tissue Banks. She speaks regularly to professionals involved in organ donation. She has included in an appendix a long list of relevant links for those interested in learning more about organ/tissue donation.
You will be moved, learn a lot, and perhaps be inspired to consider becoming an organ donor yourself if you were not already. Sometimes even the smallest of donations, resulting from the saddest of circumstances, can reap huge benefits. A Life Everlasting is a gift to us all.
Science -----CDC link on anencephaly. There are more than a thousand a year in the USA. There is no known cure or standard treatment for anencephaly. Almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth. -----On the new gene-editing tool CRISPR
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright. - from The Wo
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright. - from The Wolf Man 1941
It’s hard out there for a wolf.
We’ve come a long way from the classic - from Vixens and Monster.tumblr.com
What did you want be? As children, we all have dreams of ourselves as adults. I started out, a West Bronx local in a very concrete world, wanting to be a forest ranger, later an astronaut, later still, an aeronautical engineer, with the usual adolescent rock star fantasy tossed in. I imagine most of us had dreams well within the range of reasonable human experience and fantasy, whether or not we ever saw them through to fruition. The narrator of Mongrels, being raised by his aunt Libby, uncle Darren and his grandfather, dreams of growing up to be like them. I guess many of us want to be like the adults who raise us. Libby, Darren and Grandpa, however, are werewolves.
werewolves, they’ve always been where it’s at for me. I remember being twelve, living way out in the country, and creeping up from my bed after lights out and pressing my forehead to the cold glass, so I could watch the darkness for werewolves. I had no doubt at all that they were running in these fast clockwise circles around our house. And that if I quit watching even for a blink, then they were coming in for us. So I’ve been thinking on the werewolf for a long time, now. I’ve been watching for them. What always interested me most about them, though, after the teeth and claws and transformations, it was the day to day difficulties of being a different, maligned species. How to explain why your pants keep being ripped up? Why does your friend’s dog run yelping away when you walk up? I spent a lot of my twelfth year trying to become a werewolf—maybe because I knew I could never beat them, so I might as well get out there and run with them. But nothing ever took. So, Mongrels, it’s as close as I can get, I suppose - from Muzzlepress interview
Mongrels is a magnificent imagining of what it might look like if werewolves were really padding around in the 21st century American South. No effete vampires here. This is very much a working class wolf world, bloody, desperate, fearful, primitive.
Stephen Graham Jones
Jones tells his story in eighteen chapters that wander in time and location. The narrator is a never-named boy (well, a teacher addresses him by a name, but we assume it to be a temporary, not a true one) we watch through his growth from age eight to sixteen, (although not in chronological order) the age by which those whose DNA is of the tooth and claw variety usually manifest their nature. He yearns for the change, even though there is no guarantee that it will happen for him.
Jones indulges in a bit of cuteness by referring to his narrator as the vampire in one chapter, the reporter in another, the biologist in a third, and so on. It’s pretty adorable, and works in a way to counterpoint delight and bloodiness. I was reminded of Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which employs a similar technique.
An American Werewolf in London raised the bar for cinematic ch-ch-changes
This is a peripatetic pack, more itinerant than territorial, always trying to keep one step ahead of suspicious neighbors and inquisitive law enforcement. They are very tough on the vehicles they somehow keep acquiring. And if you had the misfortune of renting a residence to them you will be making full use of the security deposit for cleanup after they leave.
Much of the fun in the book lies in the many specifics of werewolf existence. For example,
Werewolves are paranoid about having dog breath, are always brushing their teeth and chewing mints.
Some of the details are fascinating. Proper change attire is of great and surprising importance. Mating with a human does not bode well for a non-lycan woman who does not hew to the safety first mantra. Silver is considered. Education is primarily through TV game shows and family tales that may or may not have germs of truth. One thing it is not is at all glamorous. They encounter various sorts in their travels, WW wannabees, a stalker, an exploitive businessman who sees economic opportunity in milking a captive lycan to enhance his profit margins. While there may be no pentagrams, an angry mob with actual torches and pitchforks puts in an appearance that is part alarming, and part comedic.
Famous characters from American history are brought into the moonlight for a new look, and are guaranteed to make you bare your teeth, in a good way. The family banter gets hilarious on occasion (well, I thought it was pretty funny, anyway)
Just when I thought I’d figured out what made a girlfriend happy, what would make one stay, I would do something wrong again and that would be that. “Something wrong, like, I don’t know, like eating their pet goat?” Libby said, without looking over from the game show glowing all our faces light blue.
The initiative for writing this book came from an unusual source.
Back in 2008 or so, I last-minute got asked to teach an open-topic Genre course. Like, the week before the semester. So I said sure—if I could teach zombies. Which I did for two or three or four years. Loved it. But then I wanted something different, so I proposed my heart’s true love, the werewolf. And it got approved, and I got some funds to buy up werewolf books and movies. So, cue the avalanche of texts here. It hit early in December of 2013, and I read about a werewolf book every two days, I imagine, and was watching movies deep into every night. My deadline was December 31st, too, so I shut down the course prep then. But my mind, it wouldn’t stop spinning with all this. So, on January 1st, my fingers twitching like they were going to pop claws, I sat down at the keyboard, started Mongrels, and had a solid draft of it down by the time the semester started. - from the Muzzlepress interview
If you have issues with violence, or with creatures small and not so small coming to bloody ends, Mongrels is definitely not the right kibble for you. There is a considerable body count, people and critters. If you are expecting a straight-up fright-fest, I suppose there are things in here that might make the fur hair on the back of your hands neck stand up. I lost no sleep after reading this, but I tend not to keep my head under the covers after reading a horror book most of the time anyway, so that doesn’t really say much. I have felt a lot more fear about the well-armed masses of the paranoid and twitchy who are locked and loaded across our great nation, and of blustering authoritarian wannabes than I ever will be of shape-shifting migrant workers driving crappy cars and watching too much tube. But therein lies the great value of Mongrels.
If you look past the tooth and claw you will pick up the scent of underlying content. As with the folks under the scope here, there are two levels. The wolfy thing, and then the irresistible portrayal of people, any people, on the fringes of society. I was reminded of Willy Vlautin, who also writes of working class people struggling to survive in a challenging world. There is even a Steinbeckian fragrance your enhanced olfactory sense will probably pick up. I am sure you have your own favorite authors who hunt in those woods.
How can you ever get ahead if you are always on the move? How can you get an education if you have to leave every school because the cops are starting to close in? How can you stay in one place, even without doing the changing thing, if it is only a matter of time before your true nature is revealed, and you are shunned or worse by polite society? Whether that shunning is because you are devouring the local livestock or because you are just, however proper your behavior, not considered the right sort of people. You can bet someone would love to build a wall to keep those people out.
The turf Jones writes of here is familiar, as he has personally traveled it a fair bit.
”We farmed, but we didn’t make our living off of farming,” he explains. “My mom ran daycare, or she would work at a tanning salon. Just all kinds of jobs. My different stepdads would work construction or in the oil fields. We always would come back to the same farming community in Greenwood, but that was just the place we’d bounce off of before going somewhere else. We always had a horse trailer that we’d pack bags and boxes in and go.” - from the Westword interview
So, bottom line is that we likee the lycans. Yeah, Mongrels may not be all that scary, but it is very smart, particularly in the imagining of WW-life details. It has something to say about class and society, and it is a lot of fun. It may not force you to shift your shape, even if you read it during a full moon, but Mongrels is delightful enough to warrant more than a few joyful howls, and if you get the urge to dine on a neighbor’s livestock after reading it, or even your neighbor, for that matter, at least you will know that you are probably not alone. Mongrels is a real treat.
Each week, sister Sonja said, Start at the beginning, her dark fingers bending around a small black notebook, pen poised. Many moments passed before
Each week, sister Sonja said, Start at the beginning, her dark fingers bending around a small black notebook, pen poised. Many moments passed before I opened my mouth to speak. Each week, I began with the words I was waiting for my mother…
A forest grows in Bushwick. At 35, August, a worldly anthropologist, back in New York City to bury her father, recalls her growing up years. In Tennessee, when she was eight, her mother, was unable to cope with news of her brother’s death in Viet Nam. She persisted in talking to her lost, beloved sibling as if he were still present. When dad finally replants August and her little brother in the county of Kings, his home town, a new life sprouts for them. We see through August’s eyes what life was like for a young black girl in 1970s Brooklyn. From white flight to the drug epidemic, from DJ parties in the park to dangerous sorts, interested in drugs and young girls, from blackouts and looting to the influence of the Nation of Islam, from innocence to awakening sexuality, from finding friends to seeing the world slowly opening to reveal diverse paths, many dangers, and some ways through. A core element of the story is August coming to grips with her absent, Godot-like mother. The bulk of her story, as it might for most of us, centers on her friends.
My brother had the faith my father brought him to, and for a long time, I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this.
Time shifts back and forth. August is 8, then 15 then 11. Woodson uses front page touchstones to place us, and August, in time. Son of Sam, the blackout of 1977, Biafran starvelings, and popular entertainment.
On a different planet, we could have been Lois Lane or Jane or Mary Tyler Moore or Marlo Thomas. We could have thrown our hats up, twirled and smiled. We could have made it after all. We watched the shows. We knew the songs. We sang along when Mary was big-eyed and awed by Minneapolis. We dreamed with Marlo of someday hitting the big time. We took off with the Flying Nun.
The dreams the girls nurture come face to face with the roots from which they grow. Possibilities appear. And impediments. Can their friendship survive the winds that push and pull them in diverse directions as they branch out?
Maybe this is how it happened for everyone—adults promising us their own failed futures, I was bright enough to teach, my father said, even as my dream of stepping into Sylvia’s skin included one day being a lawyer. Angela’s mom had draped the dream of dancing over her. And Gigi, able to imitate every one of us, could step inside anyone she wanted to be, close her eyes, and be gone. Close her eyes and be anywhere.
Memory is a refrain here, a blues chorus. Not sure I agree with Woodson’s take, or is it August‘s take on where tragedy lies, (I know now that what is tragic isn’t the moment. It’s the memory.) but it is an interesting take nonetheless.
Jacqueline Woodson - from NPR
References to how other cultures deal with death pepper the narrative, a way of illuminating how August, her family and friends cope with loss. It is moving and effective. There is a lyricism, a musicality to Woodson’s writing, her language flowing and floating, rhythmic, poetic, reading like it was meant to be read aloud. Stunning lines wait around every bend, insightful, beautiful, polished to a fine gleam.
Her books for young audiences have gained her considerable acclaim. Brown Girl Dreaming won Woodson a 2014 National Book Award. She has received a lifetime achievement award for her YA writing. She won a Coretta Scott King award in 2001 for Miracle’s Boys, and several Newbery awards. I would not be at all surprised to see this book as well up for a slew of awards. While Another Brooklyn is definitely intended for adult readers, her YA writing DNA manifests in the physical structure, the short sentences, with big space between them. And the size. Another Brooklyn is not a long book. On the one hand, you will rip through it in no time, the first time, a drive through. You may take a bit longer the second time, recognizing that this is a treat to be savored, and linger a while, maybe wander through on a bike. It will turn out the same, but you may notice more store windows as you pedal down these streets, or living things, a beech here, a maple there. City-like, there is a lot compressed into a small space. You might even stroll through for a third look-see, picking up some bits and pieces unseen on previous readings. Not sayin’ ya have to, but if you get the urge I would go with it.
There are some tough life experiences on display here, but we know that August makes it through. An important element of the story is hope. Talent may not always shine a light to a better future but sometimes it can. Intelligence may not always be seen, appreciated or nurtured. But sometimes it is. Hard times and personal loss are definitely painful, but maybe they are part of the compost of our lives. While the streets of her world may have been named for trees of a long gone sylvan past, Linden, Palmetto, Evergreen…Woodbine, (the name Bushwick, by the way, comes from Boswijck, which means “little town in the woods”), lives still grow there, tall and strong. August is a mighty oak. Her story of growing is lyrical, poetic, and moving. Another Brooklyn may not take much time to read, once, twice, or even more times. But as little time as it will take you to let this one in, it will plant a seed in your memory, another in your heart and grow there for a very long time.
In the short-short story Cologne, Allie Brosh offers a fun turn with paranoia, but the punch line was not really credible. (view spoiler)[ Really, theIn the short-short story Cologne, Allie Brosh offers a fun turn with paranoia, but the punch line was not really credible. (view spoiler)[ Really, the narrator would not have felt the presence of someone there? Nope, but a nice lead up. (hide spoiler)] A for effort though.
They're watching, and you know it
You can read it for yourself here, but take special care not to let your eyes inadvertently skip down to the bottom, and spoil the ending. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Once upon a time a writer sat in a large room and looked around. The words and papers that he had dreamed into existence had begun to clog the space.Once upon a time a writer sat in a large room and looked around. The words and papers that he had dreamed into existence had begun to clog the space. To get from his magic writing place to the world outside he had to push his way past words on stacks of paper that had grown so high that he was no longer able to see over the top to the door. Sometimes the lanes they had formed led him not to a door, but into a wall and he had to find his way back to the desk where he made the words, and start over. He began to wonder if the words had started shifting their locations while his back was turned, if they intended to keep him in his writing place, making more and more words and stories to keep them all company. One day a doll with button eyes that he kept on his desk stood up and told him that he really should do something about the growing menace if he wanted to be able to leave the room ever again. The writer was suitably terrified, and vowed to get right on it, concerned about the possibility that he was losing his shit.
Neil Gaiman - from maskable
I know nothing of Neil Gaiman’s living situation, of course. He may be the neatest person alive, a place for everything and everything in its place. Black shirt here, black pants there, black jacket over there. Another black shirt here, another black shirt here...While it is likely that his words are all nicely tucked away on hard drives, in clouds, on servers and disks of various ages and sorts, I envision stacks of paper hither and yon festooned with buzzing colonies of paper mites. Maybe his wife gives him the stink-eye about the piles, urging him to take some time and deal with the mess. So he bites the bullet one Saturday morning when the creative urge is at low ebb. He gathers a stack from here, a sheaf from there, and as I imagine anyone who writes might do, he reads some of the things he has written, some of them decades old. Not half bad, he might think, and he would be right. But in gathering all the material together, and now admiring the still dusty but paper free sections of floor that have become newly visible, and considering tying up all the paper for inclusion in the recycling bin, it occurs that they might be worthy of another form of recycling. Thus, newly energized, he begins to pore through the materials a second time, and in this pass, he makes three piles, keeper, on the fence, and toss, ties up the toss pile, and off to the bin it goes. Somehow the keeper and on–the-fence piles seem to magically move closer to each other until they are indistinguishable. The result is The View From the Cheap Seats, a compendium of mostly small bits from Gaiman’s large body of small non-fiction writings.
They are divided into ten sections, but the fences bordering each are easily and frequently scaled. The largest element in the collection consists of introductions Gaiman has written for other writer’s books. They are all heartfelt, sometimes moving, and are infused with his personal experience of those writers, whether purely through their work, or, in many cases, through his relationships with them in the real world. I was reminded of Bill Clinton’s memoir, My Life, in which it seemed as if everyone he met had a huge and lasting impact on him. I am sure Gaiman means all the glowing things he says about the people he writes of here, but it does seem a bit much at times. Who didn’t impact your life?
There are many speeches he has delivered, at commencements, at professional conferences, at award ceremonies. A fair bit of autobiography is tucked into the works, not enough to fill out a true version but enough to whet your appetite for more. He includes considerable advice on writing, both doing the actual writing, and coping with the external realities of writing professionally.
I quite enjoy Neil Gaiman’s work (see linked reviews at bottom). He is a bright, articulate, thoughtful and creative sort. He has things to say and says them persuasively. But I have to concede that I enjoy Neil Gaiman the writer of fiction a fair bit more than I do Neil Gaiman, the writer of book intros, album liner notes, deliverer of commencement addresses and speechifier at sundry professional events. It is not that particular items included in this considerable compilation (I counted 84 individual pieces, but I could be off by a few) are not good. Most were at least somewhat interesting and a bunch were very interesting. Ok. A few were boring. There seems a redundancy to much of the material. I got the feeling one has on occasion after having listened to a song you really like about twenty times too many. The collection seemed too large, and would have been improved by some intelligent culling, down from over 500 to maybe 400 or even 350 pages. Gaiman is a prolific producer of product, very much like Stephen King (there is a nice interview with King in here) or Isaac Asimov (although he has nothing like Asimov’s range, not that anyone else does either). So even with such a large volume, odds are that there is material lying about to fill several more.
So what are the upsides? Ok, you already know the guy is a pretty solid writer, so the quality of the writing is fine. Even though he is out of his power genre, he was a journalist and can crank out non-fic, no problem. He shares plenty of insights, particularly when making the case for the value of fantasy, although they sometimes sounded a bit emo:
We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.
He writes about works that and writers who have influenced him, whether those influences were TV Programs (Dr Who), writers of comics (Will Eisner), or of books (Harlan Ellison, and many others), of children’s or adult fiction. I enjoyed his observations of the writing experience. There are details in this collection that will definitely enhance your appreciation for how some of his well-known creations came to be, the what-ifs that sparked the process.
I write to find out what I think about something. I wrote American Gods because I had lived in America for almost a decade and felt it was time that I learned what I thought about it. I wrote Coraline because, when I was a child, I used to wonder what would happen if I went home and my parents had moved away without telling me.
He offers insights into some other works of his, for instance Sandman and The Ocean of the End of the Lane.
I quite enjoyed his tale of attending the Oscars when Coraline was nominated, and had exactly no chance of winning. Gaiman, a pretty well-known sort, was relegated to the relatively cheap seats, even though Coraline had received a nomination. Another tale, of his work on the film Mirrormask and then attending the opening at the Sundance festival, had a lovely stranger-in-a-strange-land feel. He includes some interaction with musicians, notably Lou Reed. And one of the two pieces about his now wife Amanda Palmer was quite interesting for it’s look at the strains of coping with the together-all-the-time relationships inherent in going on the road. I enjoyed his straight-up autobio pieces, including his childhood reading experiences and fondness for comics.
You will come away from Cheap Seats with a nice list of authors you may want to check out, the product of the laudatory intros Gaiman wrote for books by or about them. I guarantee that, despite the considerable stack of household names, some of the writers he notes here will be new to you. There is enough good and very good material in the collection to justify checking it out. Even if you find yourself in a piece that might dull the senses, the next piece is only a couple of pages away and could be quite good.
Neil Gaiman has done pretty well for himself and deservedly so. So one must take with a grain of salt a view from such a successful guy that purports to be from the cheap seats. Gaiman is a top notch author and if he is looking at the world from the cheap seats any place but at the Oscars he is probably slumming. You will definitely enjoy much of what is included in this large collection. But there is enough that seems duplicative, in tone if not always in content, that it keeps the collection from being quite first class.