I’m Just a Person
Imagine that over the course of four months, you endure a brutal and exhausting illness, you lose your mother, your relationship falls apart, and you’re diagnosed with cancer. And then imagine that your job is to make others laugh. This scenario would break most people, but instead, it made Tig Notaro a household name and helped redefine her in more ways than one.
I’m Just a Person is Tig’s journey in her own words, taking us through the repeated and unexpected heartaches of loss, the awkwardness and humiliation that comes with being ill, and all the social and personal struggles that come with either of those taxing situations. And yet, she has penned a very funny, deeply moving narrative. This isn’t emotional torture porn or blandly uplifting treacle; this is hardcore honesty and sincerity told through a hilarious, sardonic lens.
Not only is it a terrific, meaningful read, but it was a wonderful guidebook that helped me be there for a friend who endured a similar loss. Knowing what to say and what not to say is just one worthwhile lesson Tig provided amongst all those laughs and poignant words.
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
Valiant Ambition is as the author admits “A Story not commonly told” in regards to Benedict Arnold and George Washington. George Washington was in command of the Continental Army overseeing a painful defeat on Long Island in the late Summer of 1776. Benedict Arnold was a Colonel overseeing the successful defence of Fort Ticonderoga. Two men whose paths would meet more than once, each on the same side at the beginning of the war, but divided by loyalties at the end of the war…..Washington a hero despite earlier setbacks, Arnold a one time hero, now traitor to the revolutionary cause. Washington’s early setbacks would be offset by his Christmas Victory in Trenton over the mercenary Hessians at Christmas 1776. Arnold would aid in snatching total victory from the British in Saratoga. Arnold’s upward climb would be marred by jealousy and animosity from higher ups like Horatio Gates, a General in the Continental Army. Arnold would be sidelined by wartime injuries, impatiently waiting for his time on the battlefield and more action and accolades. Washington would suffer through the downtimes at Valley Forge, Brandywine, but strive for any advantage over the British. The eventual betrayal by Arnold would come about by various factors: Marriage to Peggy Shippen, who encouraged his double dealing, a court-martial by overambitious fellow soldiers, monetary concerns….Arnold’s exposure would come about through the capture of a British Captain who was his go-between. Any chance of British victory would soon be over. Arnold wouldn’t be caught, but his mission didn’t succeed.
Valiant Ambition delves into two famous soldiers….One known as the Father of our country, the other, one of the most hated traitors in our nation….whose name is used to describe traitors to this day. Philbrick is fair to both of his subjects acknowledging their good traits and their foibles…Washington was about par for the course as a military leader, Arnold had tremendous courage, but was also possessed of a all encompassing ambition that ultimately ate him up. An excellent read about a period that built our country.
Cancer Country: A Survivor’s Memoir
Cancer Country is, as Chet Skibinski puts it, “a guide through my foreign country. It’s an armchair travel guide, safely away from the real thing.” In 2008, at 66 years of age, Skibinski is told that he has a rare and aggressive form of cancer called angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, Skibinski is considered cancer-free and in remission. That all changes a few months later when he receives a dismal prognosis of stage four lymphoma, this time affecting the bone marrow. Skibinski adds lightheartedness to a dark almost two-year season of his life.
Retired high school English teacher-turned-author, Chet Skibinski takes readers on a trip through his bizarre experiences with a disease “so rare, that only one in a half million Americans get it.” A relatively healthy man at the time, bar some peculiar itching, Skibinski takes to the drastic overnight morphing of his well being like an out-of-body experience. Certain that there has to be a cure, he begins to look for solutions…anywhere. And with, as Skibinski says, “absurdly optimistic illusions,” he explains how he approaches this foreign substance that has chosen to wreak havoc on his life. Skibinski’s candid storytellingreminiscent of George Carlin’s incessant tongue-in-cheek commentaries except with a light sprinkling of expletivesis absolutely dead honest and nothing less than hilarious.
Covering just about every emotion imaginable, and then some, as well as many sleepless nights, Skibinski fills these highs and lows with his crazy imagination, fixations with English Lit, and his love for a Porsche Cayman, amid extremes of fears and worries over medical protocol and test results to the mundane near-insane waiting periodsall surrounded by clever comparisons and multihued metaphors. A few great comparison examples include how chemo chemicals let loose in Skibinski’s body are much like a frat party or the Hells Angels in some small California town and how he associates his life after the bone marrow transplant to that of a factory turkey. And then there is this comedic, yet profound, line: “Adding up a person’s possessions at the end to determine the value of a lifetime seems about as irrational as doing an inventory at Walmart minutes before the coffin is lowered.”
Closing on an encouraging note, Skibinski’s sums up his account with this reflection: “Cancer takes a lot out of you, and one thing that it takes is optimismthat casual sort of optimism that you assumed was there all the time and would always be there, as dependable as a beating heart or a sunrise.” Funny and engaging, Cancer Country is, undoubtedly, an eye-opening must-read.
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.
When small-town Police Chief Jeff Buck becomes involved with a domestic dispute, he has no idea how much his life will change. The police arrest the woman, a real piece of work, who ends up giving a tip that leads them to one of the biggest drug busts in the Midwest. Drugs arent anything new to Buck. He worked narcotics undercover for twenty years. Hes reluctant to get back into that world, but once he sees where the trail leads, his juices flow, and he throws himself into the case wholeheartedly. It turns out there is a Russian Mafia in Bucks backyard distributing huge amounts of marijuana and other drugs coming in from Canada, not from Mexico as most people believe, and the group growing and running the weed is a Canadian branch of the Hells Angels. But there is another wrinkle. The product is coming through an Indian reservation right on the border and, as a sovereign nation, that makes the wrinkle really big. Buck has to find a way to work with a number of agencies on both sides of the border and in the reservation as well.
The story Jeff Buck and his two co-writers, Jon Land and Lindsay Preston, tell in this book is an incredibly complex one with lots of moving parts. It is both fascinating and compelling, although on several occasions the writers bring in illustrations of how things work by telling stories from other cases Buck worked on through the years. While interesting in their own rights, these stories tend to slow the main story down and bring in characters and events that get in the way of the main story. That said, the writing is excellent, the story relevant to most people, and for those who enjoy good cop stories, this one is a good one.
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.