Year 3, Book 16

16. Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, A Chorus of Hope by Richard M. Cohen
This book was written by Richard M. Cohen, who is the husband of Meredith Viera, which I had no idea until I started reading it. The book is about dealing with chronic illness. Cohen has Multiple Sclerosis and also battled colon cancer for a number of years. Both of which I believe he chronicled in an earlier book called Blindsided, which I have not been able to get my hands on.

In this book he wanted to tell the stories of other people living with chronic illnesses. Over a period of years he meets with 5 other people to get a sense of their stories. At the end they all meet together and address a class of Harvard medical students about living with chronic illness and how they as doctors can better respond to their patients. I think that is great and I hope it made an impact because I’ve already dealt with too many doctors who don’t have a clue.

I thought about going in depth into the actual stories of the people, which are so meaningful. But I think you should really read for yourselves, so I won’t.

The 5 participants in the book are:

Denise, who was diagnosed with ALS about 5 years previous to the book being written.

Buzz, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He is a very strong Christian and has turned his disease and his life over to the Lord. I found his story really inspiring because his faith is something I aspire to. I also found his story scary because one of the drugs I take increases my chances of contracting lymphoma. That was always some kind of abstract thing to me until I read this story, and now I know more about it and it scares me that I might have to live with that one day on top of everything else.

Ben was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy when he was three years old and has currently defied the odds living to the age of 18 and enrolling in college at St. Mary’s College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Sarah was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 3. Actually she was diagnosed originally with Ulcerative Colitis. The diagnosis did not change until she got sick enough that they completely removed her colon. As Ulcerative Colitis is limited to the colon they told her she would no longer be sick after the surgery, which offered her a hope she had never known. Only they were wrong and it turned out to be Crohn’s, which just continues to find new places of the digestive tract to attack. Reading about that was heartbreaking. Her story for obvious reasons touched me the most. She is way worse off than I have ever been and ever hope to be. And she doesn’t remember a time in her life when she was healthy, which is something I luckily can’t say.

Larry has bi-polar disorder and struggles with not only keeping his disease under control, but the stigma that goes along with mental illness. Although all of these people have struggled with the stigma of being sick, he describes why he thinks the stigma of mental illness is different.

It is interesting to listen to Cohen tell these people’s stories. He sometimes struggles to understand how they are coping and why they do the things they do. At one point he realizes and says that he expects everyone to cope the same way the does and tries to get them to admit to thinking the same way that he does about his illness. He especially struggles with Buzz and Larry who both have a strong faith, which Cohen does not have. He tries to point out his obvious bias against it and come to terms with the fact that their views may be valid. He really struggles with it thought, and I don’t think he ever really fully accepts that their faiths are not just either part of a mental illness or a way not to face reality.

I strongly recommend this book to everyone, but particularly those who struggle with chronic illness. (I give it a 9 out of 10).

The book starts out with a quote from A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway that I found very meaningful and is obviously where the book title came from.

“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Year 3, Book 15

15. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks
I didn’t realize it before I read the book, but it is actually a book of short stories. All but two of them are about the same character, which is a little weird. I feel like those two should have just been left out and the rest of the book would have formed a fairly coherent narrative. Most of the stories are about a girl named Jane and her relationships with her family and various boyfriends. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 14

14. What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
I didn’t realize this when I picked up the book (her newest) that it wasn’t one of her Tess Monahagn mysteries. That’s fine, in fact I actually liked this book better than the two involving Tess that I read. The plot hinges around a mysterious woman who gets involved in a hit and run accident and when questioned by the police begins to indicate that she has information about a 30 year old kidnapping of 2 sisters from Security Square Mall that had never been solved. The story revolves around the family before and after the kidnapping and trying to figure out who the mystery woman is and how she is connected to the kidnapping. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 13

13. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
The story of a man who winds up working for a traveling circus during the Great Depression. He becomes involved with a couple who work on the circus. I didn’t really care much for the book. The relationship between these three main characters totally reminded me of the relationships of the three main characters in the book Sophie’s Choice, which I really didn’t care for. It reminded me so much of it that aside from the setting it almost seemed like a ripoff of parts of that book. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 12

12. Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
I’ve really enjoyed several of Bohjalian’s books such as Midwives and Double Bind, but there have also been some that I haven’t really cared for like Water Witches. Unfortunately this one fell more towards the Water Witches side. The story involves a brother and sister and their spouses and children. The sister’s husband is a higher up in an extremist animal rights group, while the brother winds up taking up hunting. Through a series of events the animal rights character winds up being shot by his daughter using his brother-in-law’s gun. The story revolves around the relationships of the characters and what happens after he is shot. Most of Bohjalian’s books end with some sort of twist. This one really didn’t, which kind of surprised me. There was what could possibly be considered a twist, but if it was supposed to be it was rather lame. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 3, Books 10 and 11

10. By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman
11. The Last Place by Laura Lippmam
I don’t normally read the type of book that Laura Lippman writes, but I was looking for some nice easy beach reading for my trip. I figured Laura Lippman would be a good choice because of the Baltimore connection. The stories were interesting enough that they kept me entertained. The name dropping of places in Baltimore seemed a little forced at times to me, which is weird since these are some of her later books and by this point I’m sure she had a decent following outside of Baltimore. If you like the detective/thriller/mystery kind of book then Laura Lippman writes a decent one. I give them both a 7 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 9

9. Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim Sunee
The memoir of a Korean-American who moves to France. The book covers her early childhood when she was adopted from Korea after being abandoned in a market by her birth mother and how this affects her ability to form lasting relationships. Most of the book however covers her relationship with the founder of L’Occitane. The story also concentrates on food and the role that it plays in her life. Each chapter ends with recipes. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 8

8. My Lobotomy by Howard Dully
A memoir written by the author about his experiences growing up, the conflicts he had with his stepmother, and how he came to have a lobotomy performed on him at the age of 12. He also talks about his life after the lobotomy. A kind of sad book. I was not entirely satisfied though because although his life was not good, I didn’t feel like I got a real sense of what the lobotomy did to him as I could see his life turning out the way that it did anyway based on the childhood he had. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 7

7. Ghettonation: A Journey into the Land of the Bling and the Home of the Shameless by Cora Daniels
A short little book that addresses what ghetto is and how it’s really a mindset and not a class of people. She also talks about how ghetto has been embraced by the mainstream and how it’s bringing people down.

One of the things that resonated with me was when she was interviewing some kids about success and most of them had no successful role models in their lives. They couldn’t name one person in their lives that was successful and thus didn’t really know what it meant. That left them unable to be have a goal of success in their own lives because they really didn’t know what they were striving for having never seen it played out.

It was exactly like the character Dukie said in last night’s episode of the Wire. It was something to the effect of how I am supposed to get from here to the real world. And I think he’s far ahead of many children who grow up on the corner because he actually knows there’s something else out there for him. That’s the horribly sad thing is that these children grow up without the hope of something better because they don’t even have the experience or the role models to tell them there is something better for them.

I’ve kind of strayed from the topic of the actual book, but I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 3, Book 6

6. Overtreated: Why to Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee
A really interesting look at the American medical system. The book discusses how our medical system came to be the way it is, what is wrong with it, and what can be done about it. Unfortunately I highly doubt anything major is going to change in the American medical system any time soon, but I totally agree with the author that something needs to be done. I’ve definitely personally experienced a lot of the things she was talking about in the book. A definite must read for anyone interested in healthcare. I give it a 9 out of 10.