Monday, August 3, 2015

The Opposite of Lonliness, Marina Keegan

This was interesting, I think I saw it recommended by a GoodReads email. So I picked it up. I had very mixed feelings. Marina was tragicaly killed in a car accident 5 days after she graduated from Yale University. She had a promising future ahead of her, but it was cut short. This book was published posthumously (obviously) and the forward by a Yale Professor states that this book shouldn't exist. It only exists because she died and didn't have a chance to give the world more. They didn't edit anything further and felt that even Marina would have wanted to polish it more or not have it out there at all, but at the same time, wanted the world to meet her and sample what she was capable of at such a young age. The professor also states that with these types of things, we tend to build it up more than it is because of the situation.

This book is split into two sections, fiction and non-fiction. Unlike many readers, I did not enjoy the fiction nearly as much as the non. To me, the characters were fairly shallow, there was WAAAAY too much sex and drugs. Sure the emotions were raw, and maybe being in my mid-30s I'm out of touch with just how casual all sex, all relationships and all drug use is. But I felt like none of her characters, even when in a relationship, ever made love with thier partner. It was always just having sex. There's a difference. A BIG difference. And if young people, even in relationships are only having sex, then they are missing out on what physical intimacy is supposed to be about. And the drug. All the smoking, marijuana use, other drugs being referred to. Do smart, intelligent yuppy collegiates going to super ritzy schools like Yale REALLY do drugs like that so casually and recreationally? And then there was the homosexual characters. They felt forced. Like she felt compelled to make sure she represented that group in every piece of short fiction. Like she needed to prove a point. It didn't seem innocent or even like an aside; like the gay factor had to be forcibly pointed out. It felt odd in the sense that if would seem odd if every short story made sure to include several descriptions of multiple nationalities represented by different characters. It's distracting instead of sensitive. Her fiction prose is brazen. It sounds like her age. But that doesn't bother me, I mean, it's not like her family published this book trying to make her out to be anything that she wasn't yet. Given life experience, I'm sure her style would have matured and refined just as anyone else would. I just didn't enjoy how she portrayed the lifestyle of the college aged kid.

Her non-fiction, on the other hand I found very reflective. She asks questions that should be asked by more people. Why DO people end up where they do? Why DO graduates pick a field that is passionless at such an alarming rate? Are recruiters THAT powerful or manipulative? How often do YOU treat someone rudely or as less of a person because of the occupation they have (blue collar or manual work). She chooses to portray that through an exterminator. My dad worked on cars for a living as an auto-body repairman. I'm sure part of it is perception, but I know he felt like others didn't view him as intelligent as them because of their job vs. his. I guess I don't know because he never said anything, but it's something that I feel I picked up. My favorite piece was the one where she talks about growing up with Celiac Disease. She was an infant and she was not thriving. Her mother relentlessly looked for a solution and finally figured out what it was instead of letting her baby girl waste away while medical professionals tried to figure it out. Celiac is NOT gluten-intolerance. It is a VERY serious auto-immune allergic condition that can be life threatening. Even the tiniest bit of gluten can cause illness. But Marina, as she grew older, felt like her mom was going over the top. Her attitude was "it's just food, really" you know, not a big deal. She stopped asking for super special treatment (like a chef to use a freshly cleaned pan to cook her food to avoid cross contamination). She used to be hyper diligent, even calling a company to find out the source for carmel coloring, but had become lax. She describes coming across a medical piece that informed her that if a woman with Celiac is pregnant, any gluten she comes in contact with could potentially be a risk for fetal development. In that moment she promised herself that when she was ready to have a baby she would be SO diligent, she would check EVERYTHING she would do EVERYTHING to make sure her child would be safe and then it hit her in that instant. She KNEW what her mom felt. And I think that's really great that she was able to have that moment of clear understanding before she was ever in a position to experience it-especially since she never was able to experience it.

All in all, if I could give it 3.5 stars, that's what I'd rate it. A little better than 3, but not quite 4.

Still Alice, Lisa Genova

This was an amazing read!! A friend recommended it to me, warned me it was sad, but said it was really good. She did not lie on any account!

This book is about Alice, a professor at Harvard who is 50 years old and at the peak of her professional career. She has 3 grown children, one is married (and anxiously awaiting children of her own), one is becoming a medical Dr. and one who has balked at the traditional path to college on her way to adulthood and is instead pursuing an acting career in LA. Which is a source of significant strife between them. Not long into the story line, Alice starts to have lapses in her thought process and memory. Once she finds herself completely disoriented in a part of town that she runs through every single day and just cannot for the life of her figure out where she is or where she needs to go to get to where she’s going. This is disconcerting enough for her to make an appointment with her physician. Who doesn’t really seem disturbed by anything-after all, many of the symptoms mirror that that accompany menopause-until she tells her about the disorienting episode. Later, Alice insists upon going to a neurologist. It’s through some more testing that she finds out her diagnosis: Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s on a train that has only one destination and no way to get off. We then go through with Alice’s perspective all of the way of her disease progressing at an alarming (but realistic, much of this book is based on solid research, real life experiences of real people living with this disease, and real time progression as seen in real life) rate. You feel her confusion, her despair, her frustration, everything. It is so raw and so real. I have a whole lot better perspective and a TON more compassion for this group of people than I had before. And compassion is definitely different from sympathy. People in this situation don’t need sympathy; they don’t need you to feel sorry for them, they need our compassion. They need us to patiently give them the same information as many times as they need it. They need us to know that even though they don’t catch the meanings of things, they can catch the essence, especially the emotional aspect of things around them. They may not be fully aware, but they can still comprehend some things. We don’t know which things, since they often find it difficult to communicate those things, so we need to remember that they are not just shells of a person. They are STILL THEMSELVES somewhere in there. Just like Alice is “Still Alice”.  I am a better person for having read this book. It makes you re-evaluate what is important to you in your life. When Alice realizes she doesn’t have much time of lucidity left, it’s not more research papers she wants to write or more conferences to attend. It’s time with her family, it’s reconciling relationships with her children to a good healthy place, it’s spending quality time with her husband while she still knows who he is and how he’s significant to her. And another thing that is wonderful about this book is that her family stays with her. They rally around her. Even her busy husband who has a lot of work to do (he is also a professor at Harvard). Sometimes it seem selfish of her husband to still dedicate so much of his time in his profession, but at the same time, he needs to be fulfilled in a way himself in order to be able to devote himself to her and her car, which I can imagine is extremely exhausting. Just like the mother of small children needs to make time for herself to be recharged and be a great mom.  He doesn’t leave her, he doesn’t berate her for not knowing things, for not knowing who he is. He is kind, he is patient, he is every bit as wonderful as the man in The Notebook who tells their story to his wife every day who has forgotten who she and he are. And in some ways, he’s more wonderful. Because you know how much he is hurting, how much he is dealing with.

The author is writing another book (it might already be out) called Love, Anthony which had 2 sneak peak chapters at the end of the Alice book that strongly points to a parent living with a severely autistic child which I am incredibly interested to read! She also has a different book, “Left Neglected” about a busy woman in her 30s who is trying to do everything and be everything to everyone, but gets in a car accident that leaves her with the inability to perceive everything to her left. This one sounds intriguing as well.  Although I think I’ll balance these heavier topic books with a few light hearted reads in between. Because for me, I think about books like these for a long time, and I like to always have something to read. If I read a few light books, it allows me to still think about the deeper books and the concepts it brings to light while still feeding my addiction to read.

I highly recommend this book! It was also made into a movie last year. I’ve got it on hold at the library….but I’m something like 44 in line. So I hope I get ahold of it soon enough to know how closely it follows the book. All I know is that Alice is supposed to have curly dark hair and the actress playing her doesn’t. But that can be forgiven if the acting is exceptional J

UnDivided, Neal Shushterman

Holy cow!!! In addition to the absolutely phenomenal split narrative that I’ve come to expect (and haven’t been let down!) from Shushterman, he was able to weave such hope and closure to a series that I feel so satisfied with. I don’t feel like I have to defend him as an author, or find the lessons to be learned, because the ending was wrapped up nicely with a bow. Not to say that it was a happy ending for everyone involved, of course, and some things were a LITTLE far fetched for the sake of the way things needed to end.

One of the coolest things is that you learn that his idea of an organ printer is not just a figment of his imagination. Something like that actually exists in its pre-embryonic state. There are people and researchers and scientists who are actually working to make technology like this possible and he documented the first mention of this by publishing part of a press release about it from 2013. This is something that I really wish I had a million bucks or so to back the research on this. I have a friend whose 12 year old daughter has a failing kidney. It’s congenital and progressive. However, she can’t even get on the transplant list until her kidney is at or below 10% function. Last I knew, it was 17%. And even then, there’s always fear of rejection or side effects from immunosuppressive medications and anti-rejection medications. If there was a way to make transplant organs from your own pluripotent stem cells (adult stem cells not associated at all with embryonic stem cells and have no moral issues to obtain them), then there would be no need for those types of medications because your body would recognizes it as its own. It would completely revolutionize medicine and transform people’s lives!

Anyhow, back to the story, I can’t write a ton without giving a lot of crucial parts away, but just know that you get everyone’s perspective. You get to see the societal shift that happens, not as the result of one single incident, but in several different things happening in succession that makes the world wake up and think “My God, what have we done?” We get to have the lesson upfront about how we should think twice about the information we receive, and at whose hand it comes from. We get the advice to “follow the money” something my dad says a lot about politics and politicians. And it’s true, unfortunately, that many times if you follow the money you find the true intentions of the people behind smooth facades. There’s hints at conspiracy theories that governments cause or at least perpetuate problems in order to be the ones who get to “fix” the problems and be seen in a better light. Now, I don’t know if I believe anything in our own current past or present would fall under that category (though many accusations are out there) but I WILL say that I wouldn’t put it past our government to do something like that, and it wouldn’t surprise me if proof were to come to light. I just hope that the rising generation is not as easily duped by advertising as the society that came from this fictional future America. Where democracy works just fine-but the opinions of the masses have been molded and manipulated to be something that the people wouldn’t truly want if they weren’t so brainwashed into believing what the powers that be want them to believe.

PS Even though this series is HIGHLY DISTURBING, in light of the allegations towards Planned Parenthood-regardless of whether you believe what they are being accused of as truthful or not-the fact that the idea is out there and exists means that people should read this series. Hopefully as a shock to the system to see where things could take us if we don't wake up and realize the horrific potential that's out there. Just the mere thought of aborted fetal tissue being sold and there being a market for it and some specimens are worth more than others, the ONLY thing I could think about was THIS book series.