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.
The Spirit of Villarosa
In the hazy days after Baby Doc fled Haiti with the national treasury, Americans quickly became prime targets of kidnapping in the collapsed social structure. Marc Ashton was nabbed right outside his palatial estate which had been built by the famous photographer, adventurer, and diplomat, Horace Dade Ashton. llAlthough it becomes clear that Marc draws the necessary strength and courage from memories of his father in order to survive the ordeal, the mixing of these two narratives creates a yo-yo effect that jerks the reader from one part of the world to the other, from one point in history to another. At one point, the suspense of Marc’s story hangs on a jagged edge of life or death when he makes a break from his machine gun toting captors, but the reader must go around the globe with his father before finding out if Marc escapes or is shot. llReworked into separate biographies, both stories might easily succeed. After all, Horace Ashton’s adventures included photographing the first flight at Kitty Hawk, President Teddy Roosevelt at Panama, adventures with the Explorer Club in Africa, and photo interviews with Mark Twain.
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.
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.