Monthly Archives: July 2013

*** Holding Silvan by Monica Wesolowska

I know it’s going to be a tough sale to convince anyone to read Holding Silvan: A Brief Life simply because it’s the true story of a mother whose baby is born with such serious neurological issues that the decision is to let him die. Very grim — but told with great love and dignity, a story of what happens when regular people have to make extraordinary and extraordinarily painful decisions, surrounded by extended family and friends, some of whom provide wonderful support and others not so much, with doctors and nurses also playing angel and demon roles.

I was surprised to realize that the story is being told several years after the facts because it sounds so immediate and detailed. Yes it’s sad, but do read it. Just don’t make it a gift for the next baby shower you attend.

 

 

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Filed under True story

** Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

What is it with our collective obsession to be happy (here, here, here, here, here)? Perhaps because I’ve consumed so many books on the topic, I could not muster much enthusiasm about Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, even though it’s well-written, funny, and firmly structured, a plus in my mind. The main idea is that spending money on experiences rather than tangible stuff is the way to go, a principle I followed to the letter by waiting for the book to become available at the library, reading it, blogging about it, and then returning it so that I am not encumbered by more stuff — although, alas, the memory of the reading experience may not linger very long, as I have a tendency to promptly forget what I read. (This is why I started the blog in the first place, to serve as a memory aid.)

But back to the book. Like many psychology books, its flavor is decidedly First World and pampered. For instance, “People who spend more of their money on leisure report significantly greater satisfaction with their lives.” Could it be that the same people are also the ones who do not have to worry about paying the rent? The best part of the book is the last chapter, all too short, in which the authors explore how governments can assist their citizens in adopting spending strategies that maximize happiness. (Hint: do not subsidize house-buying.) I would have wished to read more in this vein.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** All Gone by Alex Witchel


All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments is the story of the author’s mother, who turns from capable career woman and mother to a lost, confused women, sadly aware of her decline, and of the author herself, lovingly told. The family recipes that end each chapter are forgettable, but the book is a touching tribute to how family memories can survive the most difficult trials.

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*** Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead sees its heroine, the private investigator of the title, arrive in New Orleans to investigate the dispappearance of a district attoryney during the Katrina flood. She warned her client, the man’s nephew, that investigations can bring dark news, and indeed she will discover the DA’s shameful past as she befriends local drug dealers and her own past peeks through the story. Excellently dark.

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** We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler


What if your sister suddenly disappeared one day and no one spoke of her again? This is what happens to the heroine of  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and the fact that her sister is in fact a chimp makes the question all the more poignant. The story is told at a madcap pace by the now adult narrator, organized in large time periods annoyingly set up by a recitation of (irrelevant) news events of the time, and annoyingly interrupted by occasional discourses on animal welfare — but the memories of growing up are fresh and funny, and the relatively happy ending is uplifting without being mushy.

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Filed under New fiction

** Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas

Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom is the author’s of how he paid off his college debt and eventually came to live in a van parked on a campus lot to earn a master’s from Duke without incurring any more debt. Whether working long hours in Alaska to pay back his loans or hiding his residence from fellow students (and campus police),  he displays an astonishing work ethic and a determination that bodes well for his professional success. An inspiring view of paying for college, even if it is not one that could be embraced by most.

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Filed under True story

** She Left me the Gun by Emma Brockes


She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me is the author’s search for what impelled her mother to leave South Africa for England as a young adult and her discovery of a terrifically abusive father (her mother’s father, so her grandfather). The book alternates between her travels in South Africa, meeting her mother’s siblings, often estranged from one another, and her memories of her mother, who never said a word to her about her South African life.

Although the subject matter is very dark and the author makes it clear that family secrets are corrosive, it is an inspiring story in the sense that her mother was able to build a new life for herself and her daughter.

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Filed under True story