Monday, November 16, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie
Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semi-autobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with hydrocephalus, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney's simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things  (2010)
by Randy O. Frost, Gail Stekeete
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper thats ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house?

Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others. Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks.

With vivid portraits that show us the traits by which you can identify a hoarder - piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders churn but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage - Frost and Steketee illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us.

Whether we're savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live. For all of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.

See: Coming Clean by Kim Miller.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


From Amazon: Kim Miller is an immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a tidy apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. You would never guess that Kim grew up behind the closed doors of her family’s idyllic Long Island house, navigating between teetering stacks of aging newspapers, broken computers, and boxes upon boxes of unused junk festering in every room—the product of her father’s painful and unending struggle with hoarding.

In this moving coming-of-age story, Kim brings to life her rat-infested home, her childhood consumed by concealing her father’s shameful secret from friends, and the emotional burden that ultimately led to an attempt to take her own life. And in beautiful prose, Miller sheds light on her complicated yet loving relationship with her parents that has thrived in spite of the odds.

Coming Clean is a story about recognizing where we come from and the relationships that define us—and about finding peace in the homes we make for ourselves.

Also see Stuff by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee

Friday, October 23, 2015

Becoming Nicole (2015)

When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, Jonas and Wyatt, at birth in 1997, they were thrilled at the idea of having two sons. For a while, it was virtually impossible to tell the boys apart. But as they grew older, one child, Wyatt, started insisting that he was a girl.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt.
Amazon Review: “Why IS it such a big deal to everyone what somebody has in their pants?” Excellent question, posed by an unusually astute transgender girl, the subject of Amy Ellis Nutt’s emotional and illuminating Becoming Nicole. It’s also a little ironic, since Nicole’s story makes a bit of a deal of it, but in a much different way than other stories we’ve been hearing lately, from celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and television shows like Transparent. Nicole, her twin brother Jonas, mom Kelly, and dad Wayne, are your typical middle class American family. They live next door to you--are shuttling from work, to Cub Scouts, to softball practice…. They’re also coming to terms with the fact that one of their own has Gender Dysphoria, a medical condition whereby a person does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. And so Wayne and Kelly Maines discover that they don’t have two sons at all, but a son and a daughter. This is a particularly hard pill for Republican, Air Force veteran, Wayne, to swallow, and his journey from denial to accepting and championing his daughter, is one of the more powerful and moving side narratives in a book chock full of them. That is why I really struggled to write this review, because Becoming Nicole is an important book that imparts important lessons, and the ones that resonate most have nothing to do with what’s in anyone’s pants: Be true to yourself, live an authentic life, exercise compassion. –Erin Kodicek

Listen to Terry Gross' Interview with author, parents, and Nicole. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan (2015)

An Amazon Review: 
Best book on surfing I have read. Yes, he does veer from surfing to explore other aspects of his life, but it all weaves together so seamlessly that it holds the reader's interest throughout. As a contemporary of Finnegan, I found the descriptions of beach life and surfing from his childhood and early adolescence very nostalgic. I felt envy at the experiences he had exploring now famous waves around the world when they were still mostly unknown. This is a masterful piece of writing. His descriptions of the experience of riding a wave are unparalleled in my experience. The personal dimension he brings to the tale, both the people he meets and the conflicts he goes through, brings the story to life. This is a page-turner. I was sad to come to the end.

DJE:  This book is an absolute keeper.  If you are interested in surfing or the surfing life, you will enjoy this.  Barbarian Days is literature, not a sophomoric tale.

Here are Excerpts

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Do No Harm

by Henry Marsh

You are invited to spend some time with Mr. Marsh, an eloquent neurosurgeon who escorts us into his operating theater, his parent's home as his mother lies dying, interminable maddening administrative meetings in his NHS hospital and to accompany him to Ukraine where he has volunteered as a surgeon for over 15 years. You'll share his triumphs and suffer the sadness and humiliation of his mistakes and failures.  His war stories are captivating; as are his anecdotes about his family, his education and his jousting with the bureaucracy of the English National Health System (the NHS).  Brief book review and large number of excerpts on OJCPCD.

A fine documentary, The English Surgeon, profiled Henry Marsh (you will need to scroll down if you check the link).

Friday, July 10, 2015

In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts

This is from the author, Gabor Mate:

I've written In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts because I see addiction as one of the most misunderstood phenomena in our society. People--including many people who should know better, such as doctors and policy makers--believe it to be a matter of individual choice or, at best, a medical disease. It is both simpler and more complex than that.

Addiction, or the capacity to become addicted, is very close to the core of the human experience. That is why almost anything can become addictive, from seemingly healthy activities such as eating or exercising to abusing drugs intended for healing. The issue is not the external target but our internal relationship to it. 

Addictions, for the most part, develop in a compulsive attempt to ease one’s pain or distress in the world. Given the amount of pain and dissatisfaction that human life engenders, many of us are driven to find solace in external things. The more we suffer, and the earlier in life we suffer, the more we are prone to become addicted.