Things I Don’t want to Know

Things I Don't Want to KnowThings I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“As I bit into the sweet orange flesh of the apricot , I found myself thinking about some of the women, the mothers who had waited with me in the school playground while we collected our children.  Now that we were mothers we were all shadows of our former selves, chased by the women we used to be before we had children.  We didn’t really know what to do with her, this fierce, independent young woman who followed us about, shouting and pointing the finger while we wheeled our buggies in the English rain.  We tried to answer her back but we did not have the language to explain that we were not women who had merely ‘acquired’ some children – we had metamorphosed (new heavy bodies, milk in our breasts, hormonally programmed to run to our babies when they cried) in to someone we did not entirely understand.”

First of all let me say that I have read Deborah Levy before so I knew what I was getting into with this book.  Please do not make the mistake of thinking that this short book will be a quick easy read that you can finish and forget in an afternoon.  Deborah Levy writes with a style that is thick and heavy.  The words have weight, and the sentences have meaning.  The story told here is simple enough, but the meaning is deep enough to merit pauses between pages to process everything.  If you allow your mind to wander while skimming along you will rapidly find yourself in another country discussing unrelated items to the last thing you remember and you will have to backtrack and re-read pages to find yourself again.

This book has an added bonus of being written in response to Orwell’s Why I Write which gives the reasons, Political Purpose, Historical Impulse, Sheer Egoism, and Aesthetic Enthusiasm.  Deborah responds to each of these ideas, sharing her own personal history and viewpoint.  Parts of the story move so quickly that I almost felt as if I were reading a fiction story. I definitely recommend this for the serious reader, this isn’t something I would recommend for vacation.

 

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The pages were breathing visibly, inhaling and exhaling all around me. My perspective had narrowed, as if I were looking down the hallway through a viewfinder. The fluorescent lights flickered, and the walls tightened claustrophobically around me. As the walls caved in, the ceiling stretched sky-high until I felt as if I were in a cathedral. I put my hand to my chest to quell my racing heart and told myself to breathe. I wasn’t frightened; it felt more like the sterile rush of looking down from the window of a hundred story skyscraper, knowing you won’t fall.”

This book is a memoir of Susannah’s experience with NMDA-receptor encephalitis. She walks the reader through her experience, as pieced together using parents journals, interviews with medical personnel, video footage etc. since she personally has no memory of the time where the disease was at its worst. Susannah was particularly lucky, because she didn’t face this disease alone. Her parents/friends etc. rallied around her believing that she would be ok. She is also fortunate that she didn’t have any “erratic” behavior in her past that would lead her loved ones to believe that it was possible for her to really be as crazy as she seemed.

This support system, and the need to have one when facing modern America’s medical system, is one of the biggest takeaways I had from reading this book. I feel that I am always being warned that one has to be responsible for their own medical decisions – and forcing second opinions, and requesting the more expensive tests that insurance companies want to try and deny, but the truth is, when you are sick you just aren’t capable sometimes. And this makes that support system invaluable.

Susannah begins with the first things she remember as being signs that she wasn’t well.  These are mild things that on any given day could happen to a person and be brushed off as no big deal.  All of these things together though were enough for her to get a Dr. appointment fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, this is where the medical system immediately begins to fail Susannah.  She is told that her tests are all normal, and she needs to cut down on stress in her life.  She needs to drink less alcohol.  She is suffering from withdrawal from alcohol.  Her doctors only listen to the pieces they want to hear, making easy decisions to move her through the office more quickly.  As her condition deteriorates her parents now have to advocate for her to get the best care possible.  Now if she really had been a party girl with reckless, or harmful acts in her past would her parents have been so quick to say that she wasn’t schizophrenic or bi-polar? 

The way the disease quickly devolves its host into a babbling crazy person certainly makes one wonder just how many psych patients out there really just have a disease that we haven’t discovered yet.  Not to mention a disease that we are unlikely to discover due to the chasm between the training and research done by medical personnel and psychiatric personnel.

 

All in all, Susannah is very lucky to be alive and healthy.  The book, although medically technical at times, is a very easy, and quick read.  I personally would have enjoyed a slightly more scientific analysis of the disease, but I can always do a bit more research on my own. I tagged an extra star on this book because I think that people reading this book and becoming familiar with this hard to diagnose disease could definitely help some people stay out of psych units.  For that reason I consider it to be an book of importance and the “easy reading” will help it reach the masses.

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DoOon Mode

DoOon Mode (Mode, #4)DoOon Mode by Piers Anthony

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the end the entire party made the trek.  Darius knew that Colene’s notions could be worthwhile, however weird they seemed, and Burgess liked exploring.  the three nulls had to accompany them.

It was a longer climb than it looked.  Sweaty and bedraggled, they came at last to the cave that was the dragon’s lair.  It was an opening in the slope of a steep rocky outcrop, the peak of the mountain rising behind it.  The creature was in front of it, well aware of them.

Colene suffered a fit of nervousness.  “The beads really do protect us?”

Pussy nodded.  Colene knew that she wouldn’t deceive them on this, because they were valuable prisoners; no serious risk to their welfare could be tolerated.

But Pussy had her own concern.  By signals she reminded Colene that they must not try to hurt the dragon.  “Got it,” Colene agreed.  “I’m a pacifist.  I just want to make peace.”

Colene walked out before the dragon.  It was like an enormous snake or lizard, with five sets of legs and a face as toothy as a crocodile’s.  It did not move, but its eyes were tracking her.

First of all can I just saw it is about time!  DoOon Mode is the fourth and final book in the Mode series.  The first three books came out in the early 90’s and this one came out a decade later.  Yes, I know, then it took another decade for me to find it, and that’s on me.  But seriously, how long am I supposed to look for a book!  I read the original three books in my early teens, and I strongly related to the main character Colene both because of her age, and some shared circumstances which I will talk more about in a moment.  The third book ended with a HUGE cliffhanger, and I rushed to the library to get book 4 only to discover it wasn’t written yet.  For YEARS every time I went to the library I would look for book 4, only to be rebuffed until finally I gave up.  Then a few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about cliffhanger endings and the Mode series came up.  Curious to see if the ending was ever written I looked it up on Goodreads, and voila, the rest is history.

Colene, our heroine, is conflicted.  She was raped so she can’t trust anyone enough to have sex again.  At the time of first reading the series, I was 14(ish).  I had been molested by my grandfather when I was a child and I blocked it out until I was 12.  At that time I had my first sexual encounter as a teen and the memory of my childhood came back.  It totally messed me up.  I went from being a normal kid, good grades, good attitude, to a horrible crazy brat with moderate grades (I got by on my natural braininess) and a really bad attitude.  I put myself into bad situations and I hurt myself.  (No cutting, for me it was pins in my nipples.  IDK, I was crazy!)  Colene was a character who I understood, and in that childish way I felt that if she found a solution perhaps I could too.  Then Piers totally lets me down by dropping the series.  (Yea, yea not entirely his fault.  But whatever.)

So now here I am 20 years later trying to resolve the situation.  The mode series has never been a sex free experience, but can I say that what I found racy as a teen is now just weird and creepy.  I mean, every single characters sexual appetite is explained and re-explained to the point of being ludicrous.  And don’t even get me started on the age thing.  I don’t think Piers really understands what a 14 year old girl really is.  And is it really so hard to just go without sex for, I don’t know, two consecutive days?  Anyways . . .

Traveling on Virtual Mode wasn’t as fun as it had been.  The problems seemed small and silly, and the solutions obvious or overworked.  Is this because I am older?  OR was this book slapped together just to stop people from asking about it?  The final solution for Colene is worked out and I was satisfied (not over the hill happy, but satisfied) with that conclusion, but then BOOM it’s over.  I would have enjoyed some more closure with seeing the characters happy endings, and not just being left to assume that things work out.

All in all I am giving a three star rating.  Maybe it would have been more if I were still 14 years old.  If I didn’t have fond memories of the rest of the series I would definitely give a lower rating now.  Will I read it again?  No.  Will I read other Piers Anthony books in the future?  ‘Fraid not.  I think I have outgrown him.

Zen and Xander Undone

Zen and Xander UndoneZen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“. . . but the epitaph I wanted wasn’t by a poet or a rock band. It was something Mom whispered to us herself on her last day alive. “Every moment with you has been wonderful.” That’s the kind of thing that should be carved in stone.”

This is a coming of age style story that deals with the idea of losing a loved one, and the loss of identity that can come with that. Zen and Xander are teens and the book opens on their mothers funeral. In the style of P.S. I love you by Cecelia Ahern the mother has arranged to send letters to her daughters after her death. Now at this point I mentally groaned, I feared that this would be a poor imitation, but I was wrong. The letters from the mother are so inconsequential to the plot that it was almost unnecessary. In face, I feel like this was just a prop to get to the plot that the author really wanted to write about.

What makes this book one that you will not be able to put down is the search for identity that these girls undergo. In losing their mother they start to question their own identities, as well as their mothers. Was she really the person they knew, or did she have a secret life betraying the whole family? The idea that Mom may have also had an identity outside of the family, let alone a romantic life with someone other than Dad is one that most children find unthinkable. Without their mother to ground them they are also questioning their own identities, each others roles and their overall place in the world.

This is all so vague – what are you talking about?  Sorry.  If you don’t fear mild spoilers keep reading – otherwise just take a break here and come back when you have read the book.

The unnecessary prop of mom sending letters leads to the girls finding a hint that Mommy may have had a lover for the first few years of the family’s life.  As any child would they find this very disturbing.  They feel betrayed and the rest of the book is spent investigating their mothers history.  I love how the author drew out this search.  It was believable, it was conflicted, it was super intriguing.  This investigation is what drove the story for me, but while it was going on the character development that was taking place in the interim scenes really ended up being the part that touched the heart.  The untethered Xander is a character that I have been, that I have met, and that I am sure I will meet again.  The closed off Zen is again someone I have been, met, and expect in the future.  Life is complicated, and the author appreciates the beauty that is entwined in that.

This is a book that I enjoyed, and I would read any other books that this author writes eagerly.  At the beginning I expected this to be a book that alternated POV between Zen and Xander; however this is not the case.  The entire story is told from Zen’s point of view, and I can’t help but wonder if that decision limited the scope of the book.  It was an early book by the author, I can’t help but wonder if she had it to do over again would she do things differently?

Indefensible

IndefensibleIndefensible by Lee Goodman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“I am stunned by his audacity. “Counselor Vance, if you object to the current state of the law, then go get your self-righteous ass elected to something, and change it, but don’t come in here blaming me for the way it is. Because the way it is, is the way it is.” I glare at him a moment, then shout, “Now get the hell out.”

Indefensible is an easy to read, fast paced legal thriller. Nick Davis, federal prosecutor, is our main character, and the story is told entirely from his point of view. The trouble with this is that he has a very flawed and skewed view of reality. This ups the challenge of solving the mystery a bit, as in doing so the reader needs to weed out Nicks various dalliances with his over active imagination.

This leads me to my first complaint with the book.  The characters at the beginning of the book are radically different from the characters at the end.  I know, this is character development, but I don’t feel like the experiences that the characters have are really enough to constitute the change that they undergo.  I feel like if you told Nick on page 1 the sort of thing that he would be doing on page 280 he would think you were crazy.  But maybe this is what the author wanted all along.  Maybe he is trying to show that life can be capricious.

The author certainly wants to explore the idea that the ends justify the means.  I watch a lot of NCIS, and Gibbs is a guy who believes that the ends justify the means, and if he has to take the law into his own hands to see that “justice” is done, then that is what he is going to do.  Obviously in NCIS he is praised for this attitude, and I personally love Gibbs, but in real life can we afford to have this type of mentality in the legal system?  Can we afford to leave it out?  This is a tough decision, and something that kind of needs to be looked at case by case.

Back to reviewing, as a mystery I have to say that things are a bit thin.  The dutiful reader will frequently find clues that the investigators seem to forget for chapters at a time.  Things are not quite neat enough at the end for them to be tied up without a bit more tape and glue then would be considered elegant.  My only defense is that our vehicle for information is the flawed attorney Nick, and not the actual police officers and agents that are doing the investigating.  Perhaps they are much more skilled in scenes that are not shown to the reader.

I know I sound as though I don’t like Nick, and I want to take a moment to correct that thinking.  I actually found his flaws to be endearing.  He isn’t a slick character that is always a step ahead, and who always has a wisecrack.  He’s someone I think most people will relate to and who you can’t help but empathize with.

The copy of this book that I read was an advanced copy with uncorrected errors, so I am not holding these against it in my rating.  However if future readers find that Tina is sitting between Lloyd, Nick, and Amber on page 177 I’m going to need a picture of how that table is shaped.