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.
The World We Left Behind
As The World We Left Behind, a Journey from Georgia to Maine begins, author John Morris is at a very low point in his young life. Still only in his twenties, he feels overwhelmed with futility. He lives in the North Carolina community where he grew up. With no college education, he works the night shift at a nuclear facility, in a job he believes will lead nowhere. He has recently broken up with the woman hes been living with, and he finds himself lonely and trapped in a nearly empty apartment. Over and over again, he contemplates leaving everything behind, drawn to the idea of taking to the Appalachian Trail. He spends the first 90 pages of the book in a state of ennuibemoaning his dead end job, in various stages of alcoholic stupor, and stocking up on hiking equipment he fears he may never use. He is stuck. The challenges of abandoning everything he knows and embarking on the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail are daunting.
Finally, however, Morris frustration with his status quo wins out. He leaves new girlfriend Melody and travels with his hiking pal, Torry, to Gainesville, Georgia, just a couple of hours from Springer Mountain, where the Appalachian Trail begins. Its here where thru-hikersthose who hike the entire trailset out.
Morris plans to hike all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maines Baxter State Park. To reach his destination, he must hike through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. He is not prepared, physically or psychologically, for the rigors of the trip. Cold and filthy, hes constantly exhausted under the weight of his pack. Hes brought with him too many things he doesnt need and has left behind some essential equipmentincluding a water filter to purify his drinking water. The trail is often more crowded than Morris had anticipated. He meets some potentially interesting fellow thru-hikers along the way, including folks with great trail names, like Hopper, Woodstock, and Bubblegum, but, somehow, the reader never really gets acquainted with these folks. Perhaps its because Morris never seems to make a true connection with them. For example, about CookIN, a former shop teacher from Indiana, Morris writes, I wondered how you went from being a shop teacher to wanting to walk a 2,199-mile trail but I never thought to ask him
The most compelling part of The World We Left Behind comes toward the end of the book, when Morris describes a near-disastrous solo hike. In this section, the reader feels the cold and terror of Morris experience, and it makes for a great read. One cant help but admire Morris for having the courage to leave the comforts of home and embark on a rigorous, months-long hike. His book reads something like a journal: He relates his day-to-day adventures and shares plenty about the mistakes he makes along the way and the physical challenges he faces. But he shares few of the insights one would expect such a personal quest to provide.
The book is a lengthy one, and this is just the first volume in a trilogy: As this first book comes to an end, Morris has made it only as far as Tennessee. The story would be strengthened, as would the readers enjoyment, with a disciplined editing and a focus that reveals more of the writers inner journey, as well as his outer one.
Today, the phrase Drink the Kool-Aid may be one of the only widely known legacies of the Jonestown mass murder-suicides that happened November 18, 1978. Those born since that date likely have no idea where the phrase originated, even as those who were alive thirty-seven years ago surely know but give little thought so many years later to the event that occurred in far-off Guyana. The deaths of 909 people, almost all brought about by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (not, technically, Kool-Aid brand), were the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2001, as Wikipedia put it.
Kathryn Barbours memorial album of Who Died that tragic day is a sobering reminder that hundreds of good people lost their lives even as they had high hopes for living together in harmony, regardless of color or gender, sharing and working together. Barbour writes that she was a member of the Peoples Temple in California and knew many of the individuals pictured: the photographs show the dead as I last saw them, in 1976-1977, when Peoples Temple was at the height of its influence in San Francisco, its members full of energy and confidence.
The seventy-nine glossy pages with mostly full-color photographs memorialize every single person who was lost, with just a few spaces empty of a photo. Its a yearbook of the saddest kind, a remembrance of remarkable peopleaware, self-assured, and focused; of children of varying ages, of blacks and whites aspiring together for a better society free from the racial tensions of the time. Whenever there is a mass death we tend to think purely in numbers; we mourn but are still somehow separated from the reality of so many full lives being snuffed out. Who Died is valuable in its naming of each person, putting a photograph to each life lost. It will be a treasure for families and friends of the dead; it will be an important addition to libraries; it is a fine way for anyone to appreciate that whenever a mass killing happens, individuals are the casualties, and each life mattered.
Chosen: Chronicles of an Alien Abductee
Alien abductions are the kind of thing most people have a healthy skepticism about. After all, when the main proof comes from the people who have claimed to be abducted, its difficult to give too much credence to what they might say. Sometimes, however, the proof they give is so compelling that even the heartiest skeptic must sometimes be convinced to believe that it may at least be possible. That is the case with Byron Lacys account in Chosen.
Lacys book is full of recollections not only of his abductions by various aliens, but also of how those abductions have affected his life. He tells them in such a straightforward, ordinary way, and with so many details, that its hard to be skeptical about his story. The details, too, are convincing enough to make anyone at least consider the possibility. After all, what other explanation could there be for a small child being healed of sarcoma after a doctor told his parents that they might as well have another child already as a replacement? What other explanation could there be for Byrons numerous accounts of having lost time, or of his finding scratches and puncture wounds on his body, or of the memories that suddenly resurface about having been brought aboard an alien ship? These questions kept returning to my mind as I read, and I could think of no other answer except to believe that Lacy was telling the truth.
The one complaint I had about the book is the way Lacy presents his story. It doesnt go in chronological order, which can make it rather hard to follow, and I sometimes had trouble telling when a particular chapter took place. If you stick with it, though, youll find a compelling story that I would recommend to anyone who has had even the slightest question about whether we really are alone in the universe.
So As I Was Saying . . .: My Somewhat Eventful Life
The prescient quote above was taken on another dark day in American history, but it rings as true today; nothing has really changed.
For many years the author of this book, Frank Mankiewicz travelled with Robert Kennedy as his Press Secretary. Although Mankiewicz was born to movie industry heavy weights, he preferred to enter the world of politics. He helped found National Public Radio, served as a regional director of the Peace Corps and a mentor to many presidents and presidential contenders.
This is a “as told to” book based on the conversations the writer had with Mankiewicz over many years. Thus the book is anecdotal in nature. With such an interesting subject, I would have preferred a full on biography. I wanted more personal information about this famous player in American politics.
This book is filled with fragments and stories from a famous life and the people he knew. There are nice photographs included of Mankiewicz’s famous father, uncle, and family. If you have no famous favorite uncle to tell you stories, then this is the book for you.
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.