** An American Sickness by Elizabeth Rosenthal

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back is a horror show, heavy of the description and analysis of the horror and very light on the solutions. The horror is the US health care system, so incredibly expensive compared to other developed countries and yet yielding such poor results at the population level. The author, a physician turned journalist, cogently describes an industry that is treated as any others but does not obey the normal laws of markets as insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, and the pharmaceutical industry all conspire to increase their profits. I was underwhelmed by the list of “solutions”, which are heavy on patients asking for cost estimates ahead of time and shopping more wisely. Presumably she, with her physician’s background, can both determine which hospitals and physicians to choose and also get an answer to the cost question. Ordinary patients, most probably, cannot.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Miss Jane reminded me of Someone, another apparently simple story of a woman who is born, lives, and dies, in one place. In this case, a woman born with a urogenital defect, inoperable at the time, grows up slightly apart, although at first it’s mostly her parents, not her, who struggle with her disability. The supporting characters are wonderful. Besides her parents, there is a wonderful figure of an enlightened country doctor (he’s not perfect, he copes with cocaine and alcohol), the young man who falls in love with her, and her wild sister. But Miss Jane is the star, along with her quiet way of life.

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** Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham

Love Like Blood tackles, a bit awkwardly, the topic of honor killings. The plot is satisfyingly convoluted, with a nice (horrible!) twist at the end; the characters are all complex and interesting; and the action moves steadily. It all makes for a satisfying, if not unforgettable  mystery

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** The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness opens with a transgender woman living in a cemetery — and renting out “rooms” there, which is to say that the cast of characters is unusually diverse and offbeat. It is, however, centered on the Kashmir conflict and the shadowy role of a few militants and their families — and guerrilla war can make for pretty tedious storytelling. Fortunately the characters are, indeed, idiosyncratic and complicated and the strands of the story are artfully woven so I enjoyed the book, mostly, but don’t do looking for a fast-paced plot.

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*** The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

A memoir by a young woman (and mother of two) who died of breast cancer may not be the most appealing book to add to your summer reading list — but The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying is so accomplished, so funny (really), and so grounded in reality that you really should read it. Prepare a tissue or ten — her mother is also herself dying, of cancer, during that time — but the general tone is not depressing. What I liked most about the book, aside from her son’s lovely comments and questions, is the way she describes the juxtaposition of the mundane and the profound, the dying and the living, the traumatic and the casual insults of everyday life. It’s a perfect example of the power of showing rather than telling.

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Filed under True story

** My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues starts with a delicious premise: the author has kept a journal of all the books she has read since her teenager days. It makes me feel good that I’m not the only eccentric who keeps a record of everything she reads. (She reports she has heard from many others who thought they were the only ones to keep track!)

This book is not Bob (book of books); it is a memoir of the author, and while parts of it were delightful to me, others were not. In the delightful category: the description of her childhood with books, with adults unhelpfully suggesting that she was going to ruin her eyes by reading, her dad feeding her book habit, and an extensive knowledge of words she cannot pronounce, having discovered them solely by reading. Also delightful: the conflict between her choices of books suitable to interest her children, and what they thought was suitable. The description of her young adult travels and the long commentaries about books the reader may not have read, or cannot remember reading: not so delightful.

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* In Praise of Profanity by Michael Adams

I found highly enjoyable moments in In Praise of Profanity, especially the chapter on bathroom graffiti: some folks are patient enough to write proper quatrains that entertain and rhyme! The author also dazzles when he shows how profanity can add movement and intensity to dialog in real life and films.

But to get there, you will have to traverse the first couple of chapters, in which I think he tries to explain that there is no proper definition of profanity and we should not categorize words to begin with, and all words have the same rights. Hell no! As he himself points out, most adults who swear refrain in front of children, for instance, so clearly something interesting is going on. I would have liked to see more illustrations and fear sweeping judgments that all words are equal.

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Filed under Non fiction