This book was an excellent read for anyone who wants to know why some people "make it" in the fickle music industry and some don't. Neil McCormick and...moreThis book was an excellent read for anyone who wants to know why some people "make it" in the fickle music industry and some don't. Neil McCormick and his classmates who went on to form U2 started their bands at roughly the same time. They had the same audiences, the same peers, and even supported one another on stage. So why did U2 make it and Shook Up! fail to find its audience? Read the book. You'll be shocked at how many little decisions, how many little twists in the road can take you far from where you intended to be.
McCormick is now an author and journalist who has found peace with his lot in life, but he still has hopes that someday.... Well, we can all hope.(less)
Having been a thanatology major (the study of death, dying, and bereavement), I am always fascinated with reading about how people handle death, wheth...moreHaving been a thanatology major (the study of death, dying, and bereavement), I am always fascinated with reading about how people handle death, whether those people are real or fictitious. No one ever wants to talk about or even think about the loss of a child (trust me, I lost a lot of people in my life when my daughter died suddenly). The protagonist in this novel, Hazel Grace, received a terminal thyroid cancer diagnosis before the novel begins, and she has not only accepted it, she is downright philosophical about it. The big fear that she keeps to herself is that she is afraid for her parents. What will become of them when they no longer have her to hover over and care for? Will they divorce? Will they even live through it? Hazel's circle of friends is mostly limited to a superficial "BFF" and other youth she has met in the support group her parents force her to attend.
When she meets a fellow intellectual cancer patient, Augustus Waters, in support group, her life takes a turn. She opens up and shares her favorite novel ("An Imperial Affliction") with him. The novel is the sole work of Peter Van Houten, a recluse who lives in Amsterdam and never answers his mail. Van Houten's novel ends abrubtly--in mid-sentence--presumably because its protagonist (Anna) has died. Hazel and Augustus bond over the novel and decide to go on a hunt for answers about what happened after the novel ended. What became of Anna's mother? Did she marry the Dutch Tulip Man? Did she survive the loss of her daughter? Did Anna die immediately or just become too sick to write?
The journey for answers takes the pair (and Hazel's mother) to Amsterdam in search of Van Houten. They share their first kiss in Anne Frank's house, which is described in immaculate detail. I devoured this book and found myself wanting more. Like An Imperial Affliction, "The Fault in Our Stars" leaves us with questions, but somehow we believe everything will be okay. (less)
What an amazing book about an amazing man. I plan to write a more detailed review of it to put up later, but I have to say that it had me absolutely e...moreWhat an amazing book about an amazing man. I plan to write a more detailed review of it to put up later, but I have to say that it had me absolutely enthralled from page one. (less)
Not since Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has the innocence and confusion of a child in the beginning days of the Holocaust been so gently explo...moreNot since Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has the innocence and confusion of a child in the beginning days of the Holocaust been so gently explored. Liesel is a girl who has lost so much already. Her younger brother dies as he stands in a train car, coughing. One minute he is alive, and the next he has fallen to the floor, gone for good. Liesel's mother is in the process of taking her children to a safe house of sorts, a foster family. I must admit that I braced myself for some of the foster home horrors we sometimes read about or see in movies, but the Hubermanns turn out to be fine people, if a little rough around the edges. Her new foster father, a painter, teaches her to read, one word and tiny sentence at a time. The walls of the basement become her slate, as she paints the words over and over until they are committed to memory.
As Liesel begins to make friends and assimilate into life on Himmel Strass, she also starts to feel the pressing in of Hitler's power. From the time the family takes in a Jew, hiding him in a frigid basement room and holding their collective breath anytime soldiers are about or an air raid siren howls, to the days in which shambling columns of Jews are forced to march to Dachau, Liesel grows in her understanding of what is happening to her beloved Germany.
Though the format of this book is unusual (I've never seen anything written in this form before), and though it is narrated by Death, if you give yourself a chance to dive into it and soak up all of its beauty, you will find a tenderness not generally associated with Nazi Germany. The neighbors, the families, the gung-ho soldiers all begin to fray at the edges as they start to realize how misled they have been. Kind people who just want to be patriotic to their country start to lose their belief in it. This book is about a young girl who loses everything, but it is also about redemption for those who had started out believing in Hitler the most, only to be shattered by his soul of pure evil and boundless cruelty.(less)
Joan Didion is without a doubt one of my favorite authors. Her use of plain language and crystal clear imagery has always been her strength. The Year...moreJoan Didion is without a doubt one of my favorite authors. Her use of plain language and crystal clear imagery has always been her strength. The Year of Magical Thinking was one of her finest works, as she turned her grief as a widow into a striking piece of prose that will live on in the annals of thanatology and stellar non-fiction.
Unfortunately, her focus in Blue Nights is different. Perhaps it was too soon for her to write about the loss of her daughter. Having lost a young adult daughter myself, I can tell you that it will suck the life out of you. It is no surprise to me that she finds herself frail and afraid of the losses yet to come in her life. She worries during the book about the loss of her freedom, her mind, her livelihood. Other reviewers have mentioned that she cannot stay focused on her daughter for a moment without drifting back to herself.
Don't you see that she is looking back to see what she might have done wrong as a mother? Because we all worry that there is something we could have done to prevent it, don't you know, especially when there is mental illness involved. My own daughter spent years in and out of psychiatric facilities, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is not - as one reviewer put it - a label slapped carelessly on intense women. It is a difficult disorder to treat, and quite often the parents get the blame, because it is little understood. No wonder that Didion is fretting over the things she did or did not do right in mothering Quintana.
I would not say that this is Didion's finest work. Regardless of the topic, you must provide enough context for the reader to appreciate the subject. Because I'm a long-time reader of Didion's I had more information that most would going in cold. I knew that several poor medical decisions took Quintana from a staph infection that turned into sepsis to a brain bleed and a host of resulting disabilities and infections that ultimately took her life. Didion failed to provide this context. It would have helped the reader understand the fear and frustration that consumed the two years prior to Quintana's death. It was a cascade of poor luck and bad decisions on the part of her team of doctors. Didion is now left alone, with no one even to act as her emergency contact. What must it be like to be 75 and to be without family? What must it be like to be so well-known yet so alone?
I found no comfort as a bereaved mother in this book. It simply told me that in my own loss and frailty I am not alone. Quite often the loss of a child hollows us out, and if we're lucky we have more family and friends to sustain us. Perhaps her fierce independence has brought her to a frightening place, and I found myself worrying for her. One thing is for certain - she is a force of nature and will continue to pour her thoughts out until she can no longer get the thoughts from her brilliant mind to the printed page. I look forward to hearing more from her as she navigates this terrible place where none of us ever thought we'd be. (less)
Yes, I know that the number of stars I gave this book is lower than the average given by other readers, but hear me out. I think Spencer-Wendel is a v...moreYes, I know that the number of stars I gave this book is lower than the average given by other readers, but hear me out. I think Spencer-Wendel is a very brave woman for being able to still get out there and live her life despite slowly being robbed of every single thing the human body can do (except for thinking). Gradually she is being locked into an infantile, dependent body, riddled with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). She sets out to spend her last relatively healthy year accomplishing some things: finding out about her birth parents and taking trips to various spots around the world with family and friends.
What I wish she had done more of in this book is talk about her experience of the disease, rather than just bucking up and being brave. I think the losses she was encountering were every bit as important to the story as were the discoveries outside the disease. She was so careful to not slip into self-pity that she left out something I think is crucial to a memoir of this kind.
Still, it's a good read, filled with one woman's idea of what to do in the face of death. Not everyone approaches death the same way. Some might decide to end it all with a diagnosis like this. She chose to live through it and be there, especially for her children.
I do have to say, though, the episode of taking her 14-year-old daughter to Kleinfeld's was painful to read. Big mistake.