Saturday, December 8, 2012

I Request A Literary Agent

Well loved ones, I haven't read any memoirs that struck me as outstanding or that taught me any earth shattering new concepts.  I find this highly depressing too since it's so close to Christmas.  I spent Thanksgiving enduring viral pneumonia which was a real treat let me tell you.  It was so bad and highly contagious that my family didn't even get the opportunity to come visit.  Pneumonia would land my father
(who had a stem cell transplant) right back in the hospital.  He and I have dismal immune systems.  I even received the pneumonia shot two years ago for crying out loud!  Where's the justice?!

Okay, back to more urgent matters.  My quest to find a literary agent has been comical and highly disappointing.  First, I have an agent who has requested both book proposals for the two manuscripts that I have written and ready to go.  Problem is, she's so busy selling other people's work and teaching content classes that she hasn't gotten back to me.  Then I had a literary agent who recently sent me a rejection on my manuscript FROM THE WHOLE AGENCY!  I mean really lady?!  Maybe they can't handle liberal concepts or the really tough stuff in life.  If so, maybe they should think about putting that on their web site
so writers know they can't handle manuscripts dealing with the nuts and bolts of messy lives. 

I'm sure there's something I'm supposed to learn from this querying process.  First, patience is helpful, but something of which I am in short supply.  In the case of pursuing a literary agent, you don't get a choice but to be on their time schedule.  Second, I used to take rejection personally (and sometimes I still do), but for the most part I just let it roll and move on to my next potential agent.  And third, if all else fails I have persistence because Lord knows I have diligently pursued trying to become published in the traditional manner.  And that's still my goal.  Because something deep inside says I need to convince the right person or persons that what I have is in short supply.....a southern writer who tells it like it is and can laugh at all the chaos in the process. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Update and Review

Well, I've had several requests for my complete manuscript recently regarding the memoir I am attempting to get published.  I had one agent tell me she wanted the life lessons in the memoir to be more universal which is difficult because to me the life lessons I included in the book are authentic to the circumstances I faced as discussed in the book.  A second agent never got back to me.  And a third agent said the market was flooded with memoirs at the moment and she could not pitch it to an editor.  I started to inquire if I could just go pitch the book myself, but you can't get in the door to the big six publishers unless you have a literary agent. 

In the meantime I read Deborah Feldman's memoir Unorthodox.  She discusses growing up in a Hasidic community in New York.  Since I've never known any Hasidic folks her story was revealing.  I was dismayed by her growing up in such a repressive community.  I mean, why can't girls go visit the library and read books in English as opposed to Yiddish?  I couldn't believe that she had to have her head shaved after getting married and then subsequently wear a wig.  Fortunately, she comes across an English instructor oddly at her school who challenges her on so many levels.  Sometimes when somone assumes you are unable to achieve something, you will go to new heights to then accomplish that one thing. 

I believe she thought that upon marrying in the traditional manner of her community she would also gain more independence; however, sadly, she becomes even less free.  She is sure of the notion that she does want to get a collegiate education, leave her Brooklyn community for a more Democratic, real world community, and also to ensure a better life for her son.  It was impressive that she was able to locate a literary agent and obtain a talented editor to assist her with the publication of this book.  And she is only 25 years of age which makes me feel ancient.  I think this book proves that if you want a new life badly enough you can definitely find a means to acquire it and also taking risks is essential to achieving what you want and value in life.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke

This memoir by Ms. O'Rourke is touchingly written about her experience during her mother's colon cancer diagnosis, the mother's subsequent treatment and recurrence, her mother's eventual death, and the transformation that occurs in both her and her family members as a result of the mother's death at an early age.  Initially, I think we all have the concept, whether acknowledged or not, that our parents have been constants in our lives and will forever be constants.  Alas, no they are humans with frailities and are susceptible to the changes time inevitably brings to all our doors.  When Ms. O-Rourke's mom is diagnosed in her early fifties with colon cancer, there is a reassurance of okay, this is what we are unfortunately dealing with, but there is treatment available which will in time stabilize or cure the disease.  And in many instances with a cancer diagnosis, the patient does experience remission only to have the ugly beast known as cancer to rear its ugly head once again after months or years.  The worst feeling is when the cancer patient is informed there is nothing more we can do for your illness; we have exhausted all treatment options; the disease must run its course.  Maybe you can take part in experimental treatments or clinical trials, but our current medical capabilities are no longer beneficial to your care or case.  That's when the reality slaps you up side the face.

When your parent experiences cancer and its treatments, you as their son or daughter start noticing changes. If in this instance it is a parent you begin to watch them become more childlike.  They can't get around like they used to; they start to maybe appear dishelveled; they have little energy; and they can begin to have memory lapses or vision changes.  You find yourself in a role reversal with your own mother or father.  In Ms. O'Rourke's mother's case, the mental and vision changes are so pronounced that both daughter and mother find themselves back in a hospital emergency room with Ms. O'Rourke being the one to suggest that maybe the cancer has spread to her mother's brain.  The subsequent scans prove she is correct.  Now you are not only acting as a parent, but a doctor and detective.

During Christmas Ms. O'Rourke's mother passes away surrounded by her family and the seasonal decor dotting the family living room.  That's the way the mother wanted it to be.  The funeral home arrives to pick up the body for cremation.  And at this point, Ms. O'Rourke longs for the rituals some families and religions have to honor the dead as well as comfort the grieving.  Rituals like sitting shiva, wearing black, viewings, receptions, and people bringing food to the family home.  Eventually, Ms. O'Rourke and her family scatter the mother's ashes at the beach, and some are later scattered by the grandmother and siblings by a tree at a lake the family frequented. 

It's hard when you lose a parent even if you know it's coming.  Sights, sounds, and smells will remind you of the one you have lost.  Sometimes you think you hear their voice parenting you once again, but in reality, it's you learning to parent yourself.  Family members vary in how they handle death.  Some may withdraw from the world; some may turn to various forms of escapism; some try to work themselves to a frenzy to bring back a sense of normalcy; and others remain lost trying to find a way to move forward and make sense of a new reality without the relative who has departed. 

The whole experience of losing a parent is explained well by Ms. O'Rourke.  It just goes to show that a memoir about disease, death, and transformation can be a learning experience.  I did not find this book depressing; I found it to be highly reealistic and thought-provoking.  The use of poetry throughout the book complements the writer's anguish and needs during a tumultuous time in her life.  I applaud Ms. O'Rourke's endeavors and sincerely hope I get the opportunity to share my memoir with the world one day.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet

The latest memoir I completed reading was God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet.  This was a doctor's memoir of her over 20 year experience at one hospital named Laguna Honda.  She examines the theory of "Slow Medicine" requiring a physician to get up close and personal with a patient as well as to spend time with him/her in order to fully understand the patient's medical issues.  She discusses also the politics inherent in going from "Slow Medicine" to a system called "Delivery Of Health Care".  Dr. Sweet did an intensive study of a nun named Hildegard of the 12th century and her pioneering ways in terms of administering quality medical care.  Finally, the reader gets to see the hospital's transition from a 100 year old medieval castle to a gleaming, 21st century new hospital and all the positives and negatives contained in both facilities.

Initially, Dr. Sweet speaks of her strategy for treating patients which involves a thorough workup including patient history, physical examination, and blood tests as well as x-rays.  Since this is a hospital for the sick poor, the doctors have limited access to new diagnosing technologies and they each generall read their own x-rays.  Because Laguna Honda was made up of wards whereby patients were often together in one open area, there became a sense of community among the patients, nurses, and doctors.  Dr. Sweet learns what it is like to be a patient because she sees her patients two, three, and four times a day.  It is so vastly different from the hospitals of today where you might see your surgeon prior to surgery, remain in the hospital, be visited by one of the surgeon's associates, and never come back into contact with your surgeon until after you have been discharged and return to his/her private offices for a follow up visit.

Dr. Sweet learns that just when you think there is nothing more you can do for a patient, there really is, but it lies in the little things.  For example, obtaining a different diet for the patient, having the patient examined and fitted for glasses, or even obtaining shoes and clothes for an indigent patient.  According to Dr. Sweet the analogy that is best for the doctor/patient relationship is to see the patient as a plant and the doctor as the gardener.  The secret of healing is the relationship between doctor and patient.  This relationship takes time and it's not according to administrative standards, an efficient use of a doctor's time. 

Dr. Sweet studied Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century Benedictine nun who studied medicine under monks and in monastaries before building one of her own whereby she could treat patients in her fashion.  Hildegard's medical strategy involved removing any obstructions the patient has in order to heal and then restoring life spirit to the patient through Earth, Water, Air, and Fire or rather good nutrition and vitamins, proper liquids, deep sleep, and sunlight.  Hildegard's strategy for treating a patient would be to observe the patient, check patient's vital signs and respiration, examine the body part disturbing the patient along with the patient's blood and urine.  Finally, Hildegard would give a prescription for the patient inclusive of a regime for how to live and then also a herbal mixture.  The precription or regime for how to live would include Dr. Diet (foods to eat), Dr. Quiet (how much exercise and sleep for a patient), and Dr. Merryman (how much sex a patient required and the emotions needed for optimal health to be achieved or restored. 

The interesting part of Hildegard's medical system was that it was based on a system of fours and the effects the four seasons had on plants, animals, and humans.  She felt a patient needed the right balance of the four humors inside the body which depends on seasonal changes outside the body.  Dr. Sweet actually went on a pilgramage to Spain in order to learn what the experience of being an "other" or "stranger" or even "patient" might be like.  In other words, what is it like to leave home and immerse yourself by speaking a different language, eating different foods, and encountering different expectations.  For the average patient a hospital stay might indeed make you feel like a complete stranger with all the medical jargon, interesting hospital food, and how your life suddenly changes because of a chronic illness or disease.  One day you are a healthy teacher and the next you are learning to cope with disability; your own world and priorities are turned upside down. 

The best things Dr. Sweet seemed to take from her time at Laguna Honda Hospital was that a patient needs hospitality (little things like a toothbrush, soap, shampoo, proper diet, clothes, shoes).  Also a hospital needs to provide the patient with community or a place where they can share and learn from others experiencing an illness similar to theirs with staff that promotes activities and an atmosphere of inclusiveness.  Finally, a hospital needs to provide charity whether that is in taking extra time to make sure a patient receives proper care after discharge, the patient has a decent place to stay or live, as well as indulging a patient's emotional happiness which may be catering to their likes/dislikes whether it involves food, music, or activities. 

I enjoyed this memoir quite a bit.  Some of the cases encountered by Dr. Sweet were scary and unpredictable.  At times I felt like my teeth were going to drop out when I read what was being experienced by a patient at Laguna Honda.  It was also eye opening to see how much politics influence health care.  I think the main reason I enjoyed this memoir is because it gave me a chance to see how a doctor views a patient, hospital red tape, and how they develop and implement their personal philosophy of medicine.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Publishing Update and Review

Well, the best way to summarize my experience with the publishing industry presently is crickets.  Maybe the agents and editors are all on vacation; maybe they are all at conferences; or maybe they are all just hunkered down somewhere reading manuscripts.  So, in the meantime, I am continuing to read memoir.  I just finished the book The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen.  I am attempting to broaden my memoir horizons by reading memoirs written by and about men; big applause from my husband.  This particular book was a journey about a guy who actually did leave his last thirty dollars in a telephone booth in the year 2000 and then basically went to live in the Moab Desert.  He grew up in a fundamentalist household in Colorado and slowly becomes disenfranchised with our capitalist system of buying and selling as well as debt and credit.  Admirably, he worked at several interesting career positions where he assisted in a homeless shelter and a women's shelter.  He did not like the abuses of the system by his boss at one place nor the way people were treated at these facilities.  He even travels to India initially to pursue Hinduism, but eventually he studies Buddhism and the life of a monk.  If I remember correctly, at one point he joins the peace corp and lives and
serves abroad.  The main point comes when Suelo as this man is known drives his car off a cliff  in order
to commit suicide and lives.  If there ever was a person that "goes with the flow", it is truly this man.  At one point, he drives with two people to Alaska and takes on salmon fishing.  He works at community gardens, participates in the concept of Free Meals, and basically could be classified as a jack of all trades.  In this book he has made his home in a cave in the Moab desert.  He routinely goes searching for food in dumpsters.  Honestly, at various points throughout the book I was fearful for him.  I am glad he found peace,
security, and happiness living without money, but I have to say it is definitely not for me. 

I would worry about the following issues:  brushing my teeth and having my teeth cleaned every four months; cleanliness, food (I am not one to dumpster dive), medications (if I didn't take these I probably would have gone blind, deaf, and fallen over dead a while ago); medical care; shelter (I don't even like camping much less cave dwellings; clothes (I really like having freshly laundered clothes; if I had to wash them in a river I probably could, but what about wrinkles and appearing disheveled); water (I would probably obtain a parasite drinking from a river and that would be the end of me); shoes and deodorant (I do not have as many pairs of shoes as some of my acquaintances, but I refuse to smell bad); hair cuts ( I have short hair and I don't like long hair.  Yes I could cut my own hair, but that could be disastrous); travel (I am not one to hitch a ride with any person because there's a good chance I would never be seen again or found dead); and finally, I think the one premise I agree with Suelo on is finding spirituality in nature because let's face it, I know way too many supposed "Christians" who attend church every Sunday and are still some of the most greedy, evil people I come across on a weekly basis.  Just drive around Atlanta and watch how many people with Jesus bumper stickers cut you off, cuss you out, or just plain veer into your lane and run you off the road.  So while I admire this man for his courage to lead a simple life without money, I know I could not lead the same life.  Also, what is more important is that I do not think I would want to live this type of life.  I still think you can be moderately secure monetarily and be quite generous as well.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Publishing Update and Review

Since June 1st I have given my manuscript to two literary agents and have a small publishing house that has asked for completion of an author questionnaire and book brief.  I did have one publisher call and ask me to email the first three chapters of the book; however, the cell connection was not good and neither the email address or phone number he gave me proved valid.  In the meantime I just work on reading and reviewing other memoirs and writing my next manuscript.

I decided to branch out and read some memoirs written by men.  I know, it is truly shocking.  Female writers are so more forthright in their writing; I liked the concept of writing without pulling your punches.  I picked up the memoir Mrs Kennedy And Me by Clint Hill, Special Agent, United States Secret Service.  It appears he also had the help of another writer by the name of Lisa McCubbin.  Mr. Hill was assigned at the beginning of the JFK administration to the security detail of Mrs. Kennedy.  He was not exactly thrilled by this to say the least.  Mrs. Kennedy had already dispensed with the first secret service agent assigned to her.  I think Mr. Hill had been on LBJ's security detail and it proved rewarding so he thought he would not get near the action, drama, and world exposure with a first lady.  WRONG!  Mrs. Kennedy proved to be one of our more active and stylish first ladies.  She and Mr. Hill appeared to get along well.  He was able to anticipate her requirements when traveling and he usually tried to accomodate her request to be able to live her life and participate in all the activities she was accustomed without interference or limitations. 

Mrs. Kennedy spent a fair amount of time in Florida as did Mr. Hill.  He perused her mail to make sure nothing adverse came to Mrs. Kennedy including the hate mail.  John and Caroline were around the ages of his children so he was also an asset in assisting with the children.  The funniest parts are when the reader learns of all the activities Mr. Hill had to learn just to be able to keep up with Mrs. Kennedy as her security detail.  She was really rather shy and did not like crowds, but she learned to blossom and become a great resource for her husband and ambassador for the U.S.  Her travels were immense.  She liked to vacation in Greece.  She traveled to Paris, India, Pakistan Italy, and Cape Cod.  Mr. Hill blended with this family well. What was most touching is that Mr. Hill realized how much tragedy Mrs. Kennedy had known in her short life span.  She had miscarried, given birth to a son who then died a week later, and was the person sitting next to the President when he was shot riding in an open convertible in Dallas.  She literally had his head in her lap the whole way to the hospital.  Mr. Hill was the agent covering her and the President while straddling the back of the convertible.  Not only was this incident traumatizing for Mr. Hill, but Mrs. Kennedy appeared to never be the same.  She waited in the hospital for doctors to try and save her husband sitting in a chair outside the operating room in her dress and pillbox hat spattered with blood, bone fragments, and pieces of President Kennedy's brain.  The light in her eyes was extinguished according to Mr. Hill.  And yet Mrs. Kennedy flew with the President's body back to the White House and participated in the swearing in of LBJ while in flight.  At one point, she rushed to Mr. Hill asking what he would do now?  In other words, what would he be assigned by the secret service.  She made sure following the funeral of her husband and move to Georgetown that Mr. Hill and the security detail in charge of her children were commended for their service and made available to rise within the ranks of the secret service.

Mrs. Kennedy died of lymphoma in 1994.  Mr. Hill was sure he would be long gone before Mrs. Kennedy ever was so it was as shocking to him as it was to the rest of us.  Mrs. Kennedy was a class act and such an incredibly strong woman.  Clint Hill's memoir Mrs Kennedy And Me is now one of my most recommended to read memoirs.  What a gentleman.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review: Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

In Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult the subjects of death, organ donation, family strife, and unity are all addressed equally well.  Ms. Picoult is never shy about addressing difficult and sticky issues and she does not disappoint in Lone Wolf.  The reader begins with a family divided.  Mom and dad have split.  Dad is a conservationist and researches wolves.  He even goes so far as to infiltrate their packs and live with them.  His exploits go too far though when he goes away for a year to live with wolves in Canada, leaving his wife, son, and daughter to fend for themselves.  Eventually, the wife leaves her husband and divorces him.  Their shared son turns eighteen, has a confrontation with the father, and suddenly leaves and never returns for six years.  This leaves the youngest child living with her mom up until mom remarries and has newborn twins with her new husband.  The daughter feels like a third wheel in this new family her mom has so she goes to live with her conservationist dad.  Only problem is he operates a summer wildlife park where he keeps wolves.  A tragedy occurs and one of the family members winds up on a ventilator and in a vegetative state.  The son returns home for the first time in six years and three family members are faced with the prospect of making a decision for one of their own concerning whether to maintain or terminate life support.  Once again, the family is divided and it is only after a temporary guardian is appointed for the family member in the hospital and a judge's ruling of who to give decision making power to for one of their own that the family unifies enough to make a decision.

This was a difficult read for me.  If you have ever been in the position of having to make a decision regarding a loved one's life or death following a traumatic injury, you will more fully understand the struggle this family has.  You have to reconcile what you think the family member in the vegetative state would have wanted for him/herself in this position, particularly if there is no living will.  You also have to contend with your own feelings and convictions of what constitutes a meaningful life.  I did find it hard to believe that someone like the conservationist dad in this story could actually gain partial custody given some of his research endeavors.  It also made me wonder if someone from the community would not have called social services given the obsessive nature of this dad toward his research.  He is so focused on his wolves that I sometimes felt he had not the first clue as to the health and well-being of his daughter.  The other problem I had with this book is that the son, who is a straight A student and could have had his pick of colleges, just up and decides he is leaving the family and moving half way around the world.  I think, given my experience with students, that it is more likely a student of this caliber would have chosen a college clear across the country in order to not have to interact with dad or associate with his dad as opposed to moving to Thailand.  Why discard your potential career and happiness just because you can't stand your father and think he is a hypocrite? 

The one portion of this book that really made me examine my own life is the struggle the family has with organ donation.  In this book's case, just because a family member in a vegetative state has a driver's license indicating he/she is an organ donor, does not mean that organ donation can or necessarily will happen upon that person's death.  It depends on whether the individual was actually registered and if upon death, the organs can actually be sustained for harvesting.  Sometimes, life doesn't go as planned, and it is not possible for the organs to be utilized for donation.  There is definitely no lack of big issue, thought provoking detail in this book and I would expect no less from author Jodi Picoult.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Okay, I'm not sure anyone truly follows me, but because I can view the number of page views I have accumulated on this blog since I first established it, it is obvious that people are checking this site out and I can see that all those folks are in the United States!  No more page views from India; not that I'm complaining about any page viewers much less where they are located. Bring on Europe, South Africa, and the Caribbean.

Back to the point of this post.  On Tuesday of this week I had a publisher write and tell me that I was in the final stages of being reviewed by their editorial staff and could I please fill out an author questionnaire and a 
book brief for them so they could make a final decision on my book's potential publication.  I have to be  honest.  At first, I was like, could they be a vanity publisher because I truly want to be legitimately published.  I researched the publisher and checked with a few folks.  No definitive answer.  So I then emailed a literary agent who has a partial of my manuscript and asked her.  She says they are small, but legit.  And by the way, she requested a book proposal.  Hallelujah!  So I spent two days and sixteen hours drafting the answers to the author questionnaire and book brief.  My former English students are laughing hysterically at this point and thinking finally, someone dishes it out to Mrs. S!!!  Calm down kiddies, I finished the work and it is quality work because I have never accepted anything less of myself or my students.

Here's the interesting part people.  The publisher would like endorsement blurbs from established authors and I am thinking, well, I'm a debut author, who in the world do I know that is established??!  After taking half a valium and breathing deeply for two seconds I think, well, I will just email and make the request from some of my preferred authors.  What's the worst that could happen right?  Oh Lord Help Deliver Me.  My first author choice responded that she was busy and no she could not at this time read a sample copy of my book and make an endorsement.  Okay, she has a book tour coming up so that is entirely possible.  I get my nerve up and send an email request to my second choice for an author endorsement..  This author is so major that I figured she would not repond, an assistant would respond, or she would tell me she did not have time either.  Well, folks, her reponse was that she does not endorse anyone whose work is published by a self-publisher/vanity press and obviously, my memoir was fiction.  Say WHAT?!!  First, I never told her who the publisher is and second, she has NEVER seen my memoir manuscript.  I've got four immediate family members who will sign their names in blood that this manuscript is true from first word till THE END darlin'!!  AND HELLO?! WHAT THE HELL EVER HAPPENED TO SUPPORTING YOUR FELLOW LITERARY GIRLFRIEND WHO IS JUST STARTING OUT?!  Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened, but not for me, for her.  I did not send a response because I'm Grace Sutherlin and I would never knock someone like that no matter what fame or wealth I do or do not achieve.  I'M STAYIN' THE COURSE MATES AND WILL KEEP ON SAILIN'!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

For the first half of May when I was not attempting to help my husband locate office space for his new business and buy office furniture, I decided to read Jodi Picoult's newest paperback entitled Sing You Home.  You can never go wrong with a Jodi Picoult book.  She likes to tackle issues that are relevant and in the headlines.  This book is no exception to that policy as it follows Zoe, a music therapist, who is attempting to conceive via IVF.  She has had four unsuccessful attempts with IVF and the last round left her with a baby that was born stillborn.  Coupled with the devastation of the stillborn, her husband Max decides to check out of the marriage because he does not want to have any more attempts at IVF.  Max goes to live with his evangelical, attorney older brother who is constantly bailing him out or assisting him.  Max has a whole lot of issues:  he likes too much alcohol, to go surfing when he is supposed to be picking up a minister from the airport, and even more deadly, he attempts to drive himself places after drinking.  He files for divorce from Zoe and they each represent themselves in court.  Both never once think about the fertilized eggs still frozen at the fertility clinic during the divorce.  Herein lies the debate of whether you think about frozen eggs as property or people.  In this particular instance, I think Max and Zoe were so devastated from the divorce they just did not think to mention the frozen eggs when the judge asked them about debts and property distribution.  A divorce is granted. And then Max has a horrifc accident whereby he winds up fighting for his life in a hospital and has a conversion to the evangelical religion his brother espouses. 

Meanwhile, Zoe meets a school counselor named Vanessa.  They develop a relationship and eventually get married.  Max is shell-shocked upon learning the news that his ex-wife is a lesbian after encountering her at a grocery store one Saturday whereby she hurriedly informs him of her new relationship status in the grocery store parking lot.  Max is torn about the whole concept of being gay because the evangelical church he now attends is so adamantly against it.  Zoe begins helping a suicidal student at Vanessa's school who refuses to engage with life or anyone in it.  Zoe helps the student find a new reason for living via music therapy and the student's interest in the guitar.  Zoe and Vanessa decide to take a chance on utilizing the frozen eggs at the fertility clinic so Vanessa can have a child due to Zoe's life being at risk should she attempt anymore rounds of IVF.  They get to the fertility clinic only to discover that nothing can happen with the frozen fertilized eggs until Max gives his consent.  This leads to a nasty court battle whereby Max's evangelical church provides him with a top lawyer who argues that Max wishes for the frozen, fertilized eggs to be given to his brother and his wife who have been unable to have children and who are God-fearing, able citizens.  Naturally, this puts Zoe and Vanessa arguing that they can provide an equally loving and good household for any child that arises from the frozen, fertilized eggs being given to them.  Shockingly, Max and his brother's wife fall for each other while he's staying with his brother.  In the end, the judge awards the fertilized eggs to Max; however, he gives them to Zoe.  The child is then raised by Zoe and Vanessa, but also Max who eventually marries his brother's wife.    It is a riveting read, but all Picoult books are so this one will definitely not disappoint.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hospital by Julie Salamon

After reading a lighthearted memoir by Tina Fey, I decided to take on a "heavy" memoir regarding the crisis in health care, particularly our hospitals.  Julie Salamon spent a year following interns, residents, fellows, internists, administrators, nurses, and patients at a hospital in Brooklyn.  She gained an eyeful and earful of what is right and wrong with the current state of the U.S. health care system.  Since I have been acquainted with this same familiarity through my own adventures with my dad's stem cell transplant and unusual ailments I have endured myself, I felt like, if given the same assignment, I probably would have written something even more scathing yet revealing.  There's nothing like spending a vast amount of time inside a major hospital to make you acutely aware of what is and is not important when it comes to being a human being in great need.

Initially, the author observes insanity in the hospital emergency room.  People waiting for hours to be seen, to have tests run, and then sometimes many more hours before they can arrive to a hospital room should they need to be admitted.  There is such diversity at this hospital that you see people from every walk of life and seemingly from every part of the globe.  The administration does make an effort to have staff that can speak any of the sixty-seven different languages the patients may speak.  Residents are fascinating in that they believe that if they can make it at this one hospital, given all its crisis, they can make it anywhere.  This particular hospital tries incessantly to reach out and participate in the local community.  They take pride in being a state-of-the-art local hospital, and not one funded by generous endowments such as the hospitals in Manhattan.  They adamantly want the local community to utilize this local hospital as opposed to going to a hospital in Manhattan.

Throughout the book the reader witnesses insurance companies reducing reimbursements for treatments, administrators trying to fund fields that have higher profit returns, doctors behaving badly with other doctors as well as nurses, egos colliding, patients who arrive severely ill and are illegals with no way of paying for hospital services, the hospital President often becoming manic about "teamwork", "cleanliness", "building a cancer center", and uniquely, "having the first born baby of each new year arrive at their hospital (which has never happened).  Her heart is in the right place, but sometimes she is so overwhelmed that she fails to recognize the good that is happening within the hospital and the successes of many staff members. 

You also witness moving moments such as when staff overwhelmingly turn out at a funeral for a fellow staffer's wife who dies of cancer; staffers calling their fellow colleagues when something unexpected and horrible has happened such as a cancer diagnosis or a horrible accident. The hosptial runs like a family with all the ups and downs, arguments and celebrations it entails.  There are fiercely dedicated doctors not just those that are stellar surgeons, but those who are dedicated to treating the whole person.  There is even a meeting of doctors, social workers, and residents called the biopsychosocial team that meet on a volunteer basis when they have a patient who has immense needs.  They pull their talents to determine how to best help the patient given their respective specialties.  It's moving subject matter and it's real. If you haven't had the privilege and some would say horror of witnessing our health care system up close and personal, you definitely should read this book and become enlightened because sooner or later we all become acquainted with the U.S. health care system, its good and bad, either because of our own health or the health of someone we love. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

This is an entertaining read as I expected no less from Tina Fey.  In it she discusses her life lessons as a teenager, a comedian, a writer, an author, and a producer/director.  I particularly loved her brief "Improv" lessons.  I was struck mostly by how much difficulty she encounters when trying to juggle motherhood and career, and the flak a female trying to do both can receive from other people.  I was also particularly interested in some of what I would describe as chauvinistic events she has endured coming up through the ranks as a comedian.  Amy Poehler knows how to handle these type of men admirably well according to Ms. Fey. 

Additionally, I was somewhat shocked to learn her parents are Republicans, and she was at first hesitant to tackle the role of Sarah Palin.  I think she nails the impression spot on.  She did have reservations about doing the Saturday Night Live episode along with Sarah Palin only because she thought a New York audience might be disapproving to Palin.  Once SNL added Alec Baldwin to the mix for the episode featuring Palin, all worked out well.  Definitely an insightful read for someone who wants to work in comedy, acting, or producing.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Still: Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren f. Winner

When bad things happen to good people, particularly people who believe in God, a mid-faith crisis erupts.  You find yourself questioning God, your beliefs, your track record as a Christian, and just exactly where you are on your spiritual journey.  This is the crux of reflections from Lauren F. Winner's new book Still:  Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis.  This is not your classic memoir in that it is not written as a chronological narrative, but short chapters with reflections on her spiritual journey after her mother dies and she separates from her husband.  One of these events is enough to rock a person's world, two really makes you take a step back and rethink everything.  She begins to question her commitment to her faith and the presence of God.  She wonders at times if God is hidden and she questions whether she is in fact living her faith or just going through the motions.  She wonders where the joyous time following her conversion to Christianity went and will the joyous moments ever return.  Here are some of the interesting life lessons I noted in reading about Ms. Winner's "middle" spiritual journey:

1)  It oftentimes occurs to Christians encountering a mid-faith crisis that maybe this is happening because they have sinned in some way.
2)  It is not God who is absent in a mid-faith crisis, but you who are absent.
3)  When change in our life is required, the literati among us turn to reading and books.
4)  Every decade we tend to remake ourselves and renew our identity.
5)  Sometimes the worst loneliness is not estrangement from the one you love, but the loneliness of the
routine transpiring of days.
6)  Evolving through our prayer life as humans can work like this:  in preschool you pray about God, rabbits, deer, the tangible, etc.; by the time you are seven years of age you define prayer as asking God for a need; as a middle-schooler you might define prayer as talking to God and asking for forgiveness; and as an adult you might discover that God is the author of your prayers.
7)  There is a real question as to whether anxiety can be inherited.
8)  One way to overcome anxiety is by taking a break from it for 15 minutes by praying.  After the 15 minutes is up, you can always go back to being anxious should you so choose.
9)  Oftentimes, our anxiety stems from being left alone in a situation we don't feel able to handle.
10)  Busyness can be disorienting; it can be like one of the seven deadly sins.  (This is why I do not use twitter),
11)  We can become too invested in how we feel about church and God while not invested enough in how we are serving God, church, and our neighbor.
12)  In stillness one can find God.
13)  Upon confirmation as a Christian, you agree that the stories/beliefs in the Bible are those with which you will forever wrestle.
14)  Stories with heroes laud their virtues and stories with saints encountering failure demonstrates God's forgiveness.
15)  The journey to God is like walking through a castle.  The first couple rooms are basic, ornate enough and as you wind your way to the center of the castle, it becomes more light-filled and awe-inspiring.

Ms. Winner says at the conclusion of this book that she wrote it to make sense of her spiritual life after a crisis.  She also studies and teaches at Duke Divinity School so it stands to reason this would be a learning experience she would wish to document.  Personally, I liked her book Girl Meets God better than this book, but only because it flows in more of a narrative format whereas the book Still is written as short, sometimes choppy chapters that are reflections on how her spiritual life is changing.  It stands to reason that I would agree with Ms. Winner that keeping a journal during major life crisis proves cathartic so I will be immensely happy when a publisher or agent or both discover my memoir involving a family encountering crisis and the
subtle and life-changing lessons learned from our dramatic, yet meaningful year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

I started reading this book with some trepidation.  A family member with whom I was vacationing last Fall was in the midst of reading this book and said it was quite intriguing.  Then my parents were starting to peruse cemetaries and various plots knowing they need to make arrangements soon because they are now on the down side of 50.  And with amazement I learned that a good percentage of my extended family and friends had already committed to cremation following their deaths.  The whole burning body concept horrifies me, but not enough to keep me from reading this book.  Amazingly, I felt like this book was equivalent to taking a class on how to be a mortician.

The fortunate part for the reader of Stiff is that the author keeps the narration light and humorous given her less than appealing subject matter.  If you wish to gain the following insights which I have listed below, then do would do well to read this book.

1)  If you wish to know what happens to cadavers should you decide to donate your body to science.
2)  The history of body snatching and utilizing cadavers for medical experiments.
3)  The use of ill-fated criminal cadavers for medical research.
4)  The process of human decomposition.
5)  The process of embalming a body and how a mortician prepares a body for a funeral or viewing.
6)  The use of cadavers in crash tests to improve vehicle safety.
7)  How the bodies of plane passengers can reveal the story of how a plane crashed should a black box not be located.
8)  The use of human cadavers to improve safety gear for the military and  as instruments to determine if and when a weapon will stop enemy encroachment.
9)  The debate concerning when a person is officially dead and just when does a soul leave a body.
10)  The process and perils of cremation.
11)  What exactly happens when a person dies and has opted to donate their organs.
12)  The new ecological burial system being advocated by many Swedes.
13)  The author's decision-making process regarding whether to donate her body to science.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: MWF Seeking BFF

For the last two weeks I've been engaged in reading the memoir MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.  This gal grows up in New York, attends Northwestern, moves back to New York for a magazine position, attempts to conduct a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, and then finally marries and moves to Chicago.  The problem is that she has no local besties; no deeply connected friend she could call at the last minute to go to brunch or grab a yoga class.  It's isolating moving to a new city where you know no one except your significant other.  She has friends at work, but what if one of them found a new position and moved away?  Would they still remain in contact?  She has two BFFs from her younger years and she deeply misses them.  Let's face it, a phone call and email are not the same as face-to-face encounters with our besties.  So she decides to embark on a quest to find a new best friend forever by essentially putting herself out there and deliberately interacting with potential best friends.  This comes in the form of attending book clubs, being set up with acquaintances known by other friends and her husband, attending improv classes, joining a religious social group. friend speed dating, renting a friend, and even just taking the initiative to introduce herself to wait staff and customer service people who she feels a potential connection.  It gets interesting and what follows are some points that I took away from reading about her experience.

1)  The four key ingredients to lasting friendship include self-disclosure, supportiveness, interaction, and positivity. 

2)  Frequent contact and close proximity help in the endeavor to discover a new best friend forever.

3)  You can count your family, husband, and childhood friendships as critical BFFs; however, you actually should have a network of about 150 people you could reach out to in given situations. 

4)  People tend to find happiness moreso through strong friendships than having lots of money.

5)  One sure-fire way to build a lasting friendship is survivorship.  If  two people have a shared survivorship experience, it can bond them uniquely.

6)  Laughter is vital to friendship.  When you can really bust loose, then you know you have a BFF.

7)  Meeting people is an acutal and vital life skill.

8)  There are different levels of friendship.

7)  The level of sociability one requires as a human being can be inherited.

8)  Men do not appear to appear to need BFFs as much as women.

9)  Long and happy friendships and relationships are built on trust. 

10)  If you find yourself able to share life stories with another person, you are more likely to become
friends; however, if you just continually ask each other questions like it's an interview, the person if less likely to become a close friend.

11)  Many people surveyed actually enjoy spending time with their friends over their significant others.  This is definitely not true for me.

12)  Individuals lose more weight when they have a training buddy than if they are training alone.

13)  Online networks neither expand our social networks nor deepen our already existing friendships.

14)  Sometimes relationships fade for a reason and they are better left as a memory.

15)  Friendships rarely last a lifetime; they appear to be a product of whatever your here and now is.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Praying For Strangers

It took a while, but I finally read the book I had heard so much about.  That book would be Praying For Strangers by River Jordan.  I heard about this book through the grapevine before I ever actually obtained a copy and read it.  It didn't disappoint.  Basically, River Jordan decides as a resolution that she will pray for a stranger each day.  This is partly to enable her to get outside of her own worries and concerns.  It begins when she encounters a situation in a public bathroom and she does not intervene; she regrets not intervening actually.  The book chronicles her year of praying for strangers.  She takes this one step farther by actually telling those strangers of her resolutions and asking their name and if they have any special prayer requests.  You would be surprised at what she learns in the process and how she is changed though this process.  The simple lessons I took away from this book as a reader and writer are as follows:

1)  As humans we are all important to one another and all interrelated.
2)  There but for the grace of God go I.
3)  Outward appearances do not necessarily tell you who needs prayer or how much prayer is needed.
4)  Caring for an unknown someone can make you a better human being.
5)  Moving out of your comfort zone can be worth the risk.
6)  Someday it is going to matter that you spent a portion of your life being selfless.
7)  Most people genuinely wish for the same basic blessings; food, shelter, love, and a good life.
8)  You may know your life's purpose; however, you will always encounter the unexpected.
9)  Never assume you know someone's story.
10)  The people you meet can teach you something via their character and their actions.
11)  Everyone appears to be unified in the wish to be blessed greatly.
12)  There are no right or wrong people to pray for.
13)  Ultimately, people cross our paths for a reason.
14)  Strangers can provide you with a hint to pray for someone you know.
15)  Sometimes people need prayer and sometimes they need take action help.
16)  Praying for others can become not just a resolution, but a lifestyle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: Signs Of Life by Natalie Taylor

For the month of January 2012 I read the memoir Signs Of Life by Natalie Taylor.  This book is about a woman in her mid twenties who suddenly loses her husband of almost two years.  And what really pulls the reader in to the story is that this woman is also four and a half months pregnant.  Her husband's death is stunning.  In the beginning you can tell she is in shock because the chapters read like machine gun fire.  She has a close knit family and so did her husband.  She has the same perplexities we all have with our in-laws; they can be eccentric and sometimes overwhelming.  This story navigates through a year of grieving and recovery.  She discusses how we learn about the hard truths in life from literature as well.  She is a high school English teacher so I related to her on some many different levels regarding students and faculty.  I would not classify this as a depressing memoir; in fact, quite the opposite.  Between the birth of her child, her friends and family, her support groups, and her life as a high school teacher, there are some very real humorous moments.  The best moments comes at the end of the book which I am definitely not going to give away.  I will relate the life lessons I gained from reading Signs Of Life.

                                                            Life Lessons

1)  Grief travels at its own speed.
2)  Grief can bring about a desire to not be around all the "together" people.  Sometimes
     you learn more about life from the people whose lives have been upended.
3)  Some realities have to always be addressed after a death:  change names on checks;
     close accounts; and remove the ring tone signifying a call from the deceased.
4)  Death is much like the hour of lead.
5)  You will now be able to relate to people you thought you had absolutely nothing
      in common with and you might even become less judgemental as a result.
6)  Everything is uncertain and worry will not make it certain.
7)  Death is not the only event causing profound and tragic pain.
8)  We have no control over other people or things; but we do have control over if and
     how it gets to us.
9)  Books are places where we learn about ourselves.
10)  A parents grief over the loss of a child is on a much deeper level because he/she has raised that    
       individual and watched him/her grow.   
11)  People can become stuck or fenced in with their lives not because they do not work
       hard enough, but rather because of the circumstances within which they find themselves.
12)  Grief can be a place of visitation and not a permanent residence.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Townie: A Memoir

Over the holidays I read the memoir Townie by Andre Dubus III which was an in depth appraisal of how he came from a dysfunctional family and lived among the working class as well as welfare class of Haverhill, MA.  His father, a former Marine, was a prolific writer, but left the family of four kids and their mother when Andre was around six years of age.  His mother is left to raise four children on a social worker's salary and the kids found themselves moving from rental to rental and seemingly from one bad neighborhood to another.  The father went on to teach at Bradford College, see his kids on Sundays, and write professionally. 

This memoir demonstrates how children internalize power differences in society and how they choose to discover or create their own power.  After witnessing his brother being beat up and learning of his sister's rape, Andre decides to fight back through body building and fighting; oftentimes, violent fights.  It was a way to reclaim respect for himself and his family after so much was taken from them over the years.  This type of fighting was no child's play; it was fighting for your life, hurting people with whatever you had on you or within reaching distance.  Andre gained his father's attention and respect through the stories his friends and witnesses told of how well he could take care of business and protect himself, his family, and sometimes innocent bystanders.

This is also a story of finding one's power outside of fights and violence and through the written word.  Andre attends several colleges including the one where his father teaches, and he discovers how to release the rage and hostilities inside him through the power of storytelling in the form of short stories.  He sells his first short story and later his first novel.  This writing talent gives him some commonalities with his father.  Andre eventually demonstrates the power of conflict resolution not through violence, but questioning and reasoning.

This is also a story about people rising above horrid circumstances.  Andre eventually graduates from college; one sister works in domestic violence prevention, the other is a counselor, and his brother Jeb, who many times attempts to take his own life, eventually finds solace and purpose through architecture and classical guitar.  In the end, the family comes back together to help one another including his mother who eventually gets her master's degree.  Andre could choose to blame his parents for dealing him a bad hand, but in the end he learns that his mother and father were each doing the best they could everyday given the circumstances in which they found themselves; and many times that is all we can ask of ourselves and our parents.