Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
The title of this book is taken from a journal kept by Katherine Mansfield. It is a wonderful book title for this intimate memoir of depression and literature. The author is certainly well read and knowledgeable about authors. It is wonderful how she describes traveling with books as companions in her inward and outward journeys. It is a meandering and thoughtful book. There are some startlingly vivid insights along with the references to many works and authors previously unknown to me. In that way, it is a literature insider’s book.
The author writes honestly about her suicide attempt and alludes to her family. This reader is left wondering about her family and the impact her travels and illness have on them. It seems a huge thing to leave out of such a personal story. The author was born in Beijing and much of the book has the wonderful outlook of an outsider. She currently lives in Oakland and teaches at the University of California, Davis.
Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams
Louisa Adams was the sixth First Lady of the United States. She was far more complicated than a simple title. Louisa Catherine Johnson was born in London to Joshua and Catherine. Her father was a merchant who wouldn’t wed Catherine until after all their children had been born. Louisa would acquire an independent streak while spending time with good friends of her parents. Louisa would meet John Quincy Adams in 1795, John originally courting Catherine’s sister. John would hold off on marriage until his law practice was established, Louisa and her parents questioning the wait. John Quincy had held a position as diplomat in Holland and had been offered a position in Prussia. He would assume the job and marry Louisa in 1797. Financial trouble with her family would lead to martial strain, Louisa would make the most of her time in Prussia socializing with the royals while enduring the pain of multiple miscarriages. The pain would eventually subside with the welcoming of sons, George Washington Adams, John Adams. She would journey to America with her family where John Quincy would be elected to the Senate. Louisa would journey with her husband and youngest son to Russia in 1809 where John Quincy reigned as ambassador. Her separation from her other children, the loss of her only daughter, and her estrangement from John Quincy made for tough times. Her marriage weathered many crises and doubts, eventually John Quincy would be elected to the Presidency in 1824, making Louisa First Lady. Unfortunately, four years of quiet would not be in the cards.
Louisa Thomas’ biography of Louisa Adams reads like a novel. The book is full of complex personalities, such as Louisa, John Quincy Adams, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Adams, and Henry Clay. Louisa Adams is presented as a woman who loved her husband, her children, her family (Johnson & Adams), but also stubborn, depressed, and spoiled. She was possessed of a complex dynamic, but was never dull. She would be the story teller in writing her history, but not always completely honest with her readers or herself. The truth may not be what is wanted, but it is what counts.
Confessions of a Headmaster
Confessions of a Headmaster takes the reader on a journey through one prominent California educators life and how he came to open his own highly acclaimed school that would go on to produce high-achieving graduates while taking a look back at where author Paul F. Cummins got his start and how his experience with his own education paved the way for a future generation.
Unlike the typical memoir, Confessions of a Headmaster doesn’t start at the beginning. The book is broken into several different sections, part I entitled Crossroads 1970 and Onward. Crossroads is the name of the first school Cummins opened in Southern California and became the first of many successful ventures into education reform in the area. Cummins became the headmaster of St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal School in Santa Monica in 1970. Knew nothing of elementary education, no credentials. But, as he writes, the board was desperate. From there, he paints a vague picture that he came from a hippie school background where kids play guitar and have long hair. But, apparently, the board was impressed with his background and mentions his PhD from USC, BA from Stanford, Harvard MAT. Its not until part II in the book well learn more about that.
Although the memoir describes itself as working to achieve social justice through education for all youth: from children of celebrities to foster and incarcerated youth, we dont get to see the actual social justice part until the part III of the memoir: New Roads and New Visions 1990 and Onward. Confessions of a Headmaster is less of a coming into ones own story of struggle and determination of bringing social justice to minorities, but rather just the story of a man from a privileged background and how he used that to his benefit. No doubt Cummins is well regarded in education community of Southern California, and it is exciting to see that he is branching out into using his connections in communities that could use his experience.
What I’ve Learned from You: The Lessons of Life Taught to a Doctor by His Patients
The doctor/patient relationship is one of the most intimate. Vulnerable, your health in their hands, you may feel powerless and subordinate. After years of schooling, residency, and intense training, doctors seem to know everything; many of them seem to think they do. Additionally, doctors are more overworked than ever and frequently the patient/doctor relationship fails. But this isn’t always the case; every once in a while you meet a physician who takes the time to listen, who treats patients as individuals, personally. It is obvious that Scott Kelly, M.D. is such a physician, sincere when he says he feels honored to serve his patients. Dr. Kelly has written a beautiful memoir marked by humility and wonder as he recalls patients who have had a lasting impact on his life. Far from the pompous, omniscient, and aloof clinician, Kelly is all too aware of his own failings as he struggles, through medical school, residency, stints in the ER, and the tightrope balance between work and family. Although warned to keep his interactions with patients strictly professional (i.e., detached), he allows himself to open up to some of them, to listen, and then to learn. This book is his journey through those lessons.
The writing in this book is sensitive, marked with grace and absolute respect for his patients. Each of the short chapters begins with a personal memory; then Dr. Kelly introduces us to one of his patients. Each taught him an important lesson, on themes as varied as marriage, friendship, faith, happiness, responsibility, perseverance, grief, joy, and love. The book follows Dr. Kelly’s experiences mostly chronologically, so you get to experience the highs and lows of his training and residency, as he learns to keep people in the center of practicing medicine, and through his articulate character sketches, you feel that you know his patients too, or that you wish you could have. You meet Joy, whose deep faith steadied Dr. Kelly in the face of man’s inhumanity. Harrison reaffirmed the necessity of having a strong sense of purpose, and living true to yourself. Emily’s chronic, but privately-endured, pain reminded him to be gentle and compassionate–we don’t know the burdens other quietly carry. There are many others, each story told with love and sympathy, neither moralistic or pedantic. These are lessons we all, in our human endeavor, need to learn, and learn again.
There is something profoundly fearless about Astonishments the new book by author Marian Armstrong Rogers. The book begins with images, memories of a long remembered and revisited moment in the authors’ life. A brown-shingled house on a hill, a collie dog, a school assembly, and a blue-eyed boy named Johnny. Johnny the young man would become her first husband. Yet despite the fairytale setting of the couple’s early years, each passage is written by the adult Rogers with muted notes of regret. Married life turns into parenthood. Mental illness and an affair quickly follow. Her second husband, Sam, brings to the story a heightened sense of love renewed, until he develops Alzheimer’s disease.
This is an unusual biography, there is an openness from the very beginning. The author is exposed and makes no attempts to pull the reader back or gloss over details. The mental associations found in the book are vast and vivid throughout this fast-moving book.
Honest and courageous, Astonishments is a book everyone should read as the progress and look back on their lives. Its’ a literary undertaking anyone should embark on whenever they need perspective or assess their future.
One of the most fascinating aspects about reading this compelling book is how much of a page-turner it truly is, and just how addicting it becomes. This is a rare achievement for a work of nonfiction and a near impossibility for a memoir or biography. Yet, the author’s voice is so rich and strong, that it seems to reach in and pull the reader forward. Those who don’t naturally enjoy nonfiction may complain about the level of descriptive details and the flowery recollections of the author. To such complaints I will only reply with a mild eye roll. This is a work of such merit, that it could serve on the defense of CreateSpace, as a perfect embodiment of what an author can achieve in this new exciting era of publishing.
Which brings me to the one frustration I have with the project, and its a real legitimate concern that I feel limits the authors’ book. This fine memoir was published through Amazons’ CreateSpace and not a traditional publisher. This gave her more freedom in the books structure, but denies her additional exposure. Despite this one personal concern, I still have very high hopes for this book. Marion Armstrong Rogers is a fine author and she should be very proud.
The Sky Detective
In 2001, Azadeh Tabazadeh receives the prestigious Macelwane Medal for her research on polar stratospheric clouds and the causes behind the degradation of the ozone layer. With every great achievement, there is a profound story. In the case of Azadeh, her account goes back to 1973 in Tehran to two life-changing experiences: receiving a chemistry kit from her uncle and developing a close relationship with Najmieh, the family’s housekeeper. Azadeh’s world suddenly turns upside down as her country succumbs to political struggles and calamity strikes her family. When she decides to escape in the hope of making it to America, Azadeh has no idea if she’ll see her family ever again.
Azadeh Tabazadeh shares a powerful story of determination amid despair. Tabazadeh’s first person narrative reflects the perspective of young Azadeh and her passion for learning. Falling in love with chemistry by the age of eight, Azadeh sets her educational sites on becoming a scientist. Tabazadeh not only portrays a child growing up in fun-filled and happy environment, but also a young girl who is slowly coming to terms with the world beyond her blissful bubble when she gets to know Najmieha girl from impoverished means.
Tabazadeh’s plot shifts as she paints a drastic portrayal of life in the midst of highly turbulent times. While lacing her text with the driving emotional tension between Azadeh and family members, Tabazadeh’s descriptions reflect a dark tone as Azadeh’s short-lived contentment quickly shatters during the Iranian Revolution (1978), Ayatollah Khomeini’s reign. His full-covering edict for females (ages nine and up), the American Hostage Crisis in Iran, and especially the Iran-Iraq War when Azadeh, her brother, and cousin eventually flee the country.
Engaging readers from chapter to chapter, Tabazadeh’s deft storytelling carefully builds to Azadeh’s harrowing journey to America. Tabazadeh’s punctuates her plot with two aspectsa combination of Azadeh’s pleasant flashbacks and determination to studythat become a means of survival for the seventeen-year-old who is striving for a better life. A stark, yet inspiring, presentation of hope in the midst of hopelessness, The Sky Detective is one gripping page-turner that is a definite must-read by all.