"Set in World War II, this novel offers a compelling look at racial harmony, sexism, and privilege."
Maybe it's the World War II vibe, which has hit me hard lately, but I adored this book. With its gorgeous prose and vibrant characters, I found it hard to put down. Read the rest of the review.
Parabasis published my essay, “Interning at Circle Repertory Company.” It’s a lengthy article, describing Circle Repertory Company’s history and plays from a personal perspective. I was a Circle Rep intern in 1991. During my tenure, I worked in the literary office, a mainstage show, and the lab. I learned how to write rejection letters for plays and a slew of other theater skills. They also taught me how to stage manage a play.
The original essay was over 4,000 words. I cut about 1,400 words for publication. The missing chunks described the downtown theater scene in the early 90s, the role of women in theater (then versus now), and diversity. I look forward to posting those thoughts shortly.
Meanwhile, if you would like to read more about Circle Rep, I would recommend the following sites:
My review of "The Healthcare Survival Guide: Cost-Saving Options for the Suddenly Unemployed and Anyone Else Who Wants to Save Money," by Martin B. Rosen and Abbie Leibowitz, M.D. was published in The Birmingham News.
"If you have recently lost your job, navigating through our health care
system can be daunting. Many people choose to forgo health insurance,
believing that their choices are too few or too expensive.
But there may be more options than you think. Authors Martin B. Rosen and Dr. Abbie Leibowitz describe health care alternatives for the unemployed in 'The Healthcare Survival Guide.'"
The authors are offering a free download of the book on their site. But hurry, it is only for a limited time.
"In "What Do I Eat Now?" Patti B. Geil and Tami A. Ross teach type 2 diabetics how to enjoy food while controlling their blood glucose level.
The book features a four-week plan that aims to educate newly diagnosed type 2 diabetics. The authors explain how insulin resistance and obesity play a role in type 2 diabetes, and they assure readers that lifestyle changes can slow the progressive nature of the disease."
My review of Jean Duane's book, Bake Deliciously! Gluten & Dairy Free Cookbook was published today in The Birmingham News.
An excerpt: "Using her baking background, Duane created and modified recipes to suit
her needs. The result is a book filled with easy-to-follow recipes for
cakes, muffins, breads and pies.
It might be difficult to imagine gingerbread muffins, blondies or peanut butter cookies without soy, cholesterol, artificial sweeteners, refined sugar or egg yolks. However, it is possible."
Bottom line: If you have food allergies, check out this cookbook.
"Reading Paula Owens' book, "The Power of 4," is like having a holistic nutritionist as a best friend. Once you get hold of this book, you'll want to keep it around for a long time."
In short, I loved this book and I think you will too.
An excerpt: "If you are plagued with a pear-shaped body, then toning your hips, thighs and legs can seem like a daunting task. Fitness expert Denise Austin’s latest DVD, “Denise Austin’s Best Bun and Leg Shapers,” features seven workouts that will help firm up your lower half."
My review of "Once A Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander's Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage and Recovery" by Nick Popaditch with Mike Steere was published in today's edition of The Birmingham News.
This was one of those books that made me wish I had more column space. In all, readers get a clear view of Marines - the training, the values, the reasons why someone would join. He makes it *understandable*, even to those people who have no family members in the service.
Anyway, Popaditch was wounded in Fallujah. He writes:
"'After the ssst, the whole world goes blinding white like I'm inside a camera flash," Popaditch writes. "Then comes total darkness and a horrible electric-sounding hum in my ears. ... The RPG -- a four-pound missile going 300 miles an hour, more or less -- hit and blew up on my helmet.'"
"From the moment Amy Blackburn says, "Hey, y'all!" you know that "Dance Off the Inches: Country Line Dance" will be a hoot. Armed with an infectious smile and a super-short denim skirt, Blackburn makes fitness a whole lot of fun. "
"People will recognize Cullum's drawings. His cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker since 1977. His work relies on the juxtaposition of normalcy and the ridiculous.
For example, a doctor tells the Scarecrow from 'The Wizard of Oz': 'We can do a brain transplant but you seem to have become a big celebrity without one.'"
An excerpt: "Edstrom gently guides listeners to mentally scan each portion of their anatomy. After noting how each region feels, the listener can imagine tightness or discomfort dissipating."
My review of "Larry's Kidney" by Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant -- and Save His Life, by Daniel Asa Rose was published in today's edition of The Birmingham News.
"Larry Feldman had been on kidney dialysis more than two years and needed a transplant. Since he was on a list behind 74,000 others looking for the same organ, Feldman decided to try his luck in China... Rose and Feldman had been estranged more than 15 years. Reuniting over Feldman's ill health, Rose reluctantly meets him in Beijing. Because it is against Chinese law for Americans to receive organ transplants, the two cousins must dodge the police and government spies to save Feldman's life. Through a series of coincidences and clandestine meetings, a hospital in a town outside of Beijing agrees to perform the illegal surgery."
"Inspired by the avian flu scare several years ago, Moore set out to write a guidebook about these illnesses. Using simple language, he describes the origins, symptoms and treatment of such maladies as influenza and hepatitis A. Moore also outlines the possibility of each disease being used as a bioweapon."
Can you tell that I'm totally into pandemics? Read the whole thing.
"Girls have a million questions about puberty, many of which are too embarrassing to ask. It isn't easy to think about breasts and bras, especially when your body is growing in ways you never thought possible."Is This Normal?," edited by Erin Falligant, teaches girls how to care for their changing physiques."
My review of Mymedmanager by Infinisity, Inc. was published in today's edition of The Birmingham News. In print, it appears on the second page of the health section.
I'm late in posting this, but my review of Harley Pasternak's "The 5-Factor Diet" appeared in last week's Birmingham News.
"Months before their daughter is born, Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe learn that she suffers from a genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta. Because of a collagen deficiency, Willow will fracture hundreds of bones in her lifetime.
Jodi Picoult’s new novel, “Handle With Care,” vividly depicts a family emotionally and financially challenged by the daughter’s disease. "
The story worked for me, up until the very end. Read about it in my review.
An excerpt: "After four long years of studying medicine, new doctors enter residency programs to train under the watchful eyes of experienced colleagues. Pairing new physicians with these programs is a complicated process in which neither the students nor the hospitals have ultimate control.
Brian Eule's new book, "Match Day: One Day and One Dramatic Year in the Lives of Three New Doctors," is a dynamic look at three female physicians beginning their careers."
My review of The Body Broken: A Memoir by Lynne Greenberg was published in today's health section of The Birmingham News.
"While on her way to a party at age 19, Lynne Greenberg was nearly killed in a car accident. The vehicle flipped and dropped more than 30 feet into a cornfield. Greenberg's neck was fractured in a delicate area near the brain stem and spinal cord. Miraculously, her neck appeared to heal and she went on to have a normal life. Twenty-two years later, a sudden onslaught of neck pain and headaches consumed her. Greenberg writes about her experiences with chronic pain in "The Body Broken: A Memoir."
My review of "Senior Smart Puzzles: Mazes, Hidden Objects, Same/Different Puzzles" by Lindy McClean was printed in today's Birmingham News. Why wasn't it published on Monday? Because now they publish the Health Section on Thursdays.
"McClean and illustrator James Cloutier have incorporated aspects of history into their games. Drawings consist of such luminaries as Babe Ruth, Betty Grable and the original Musketeers. Female and male figures wear fashions from the '30s, '40s and '50s. Cars, soda fountains and objects such as telephones also appear as they would have in days gone by. "
Update: I've gotten a few questions about how to order this book. Here's a few ways how to buy a copy:
Your local bookseller should also be able to order a copy for you.
"Once upon a time, an herbal supplement called Metabolife 356 was the biggest weight-loss product in the country. Millions were made on the tablet. Michael J. Ellis, inventor of the product and co-founder of Metabolife International Inc., was on top of the world -- until it all came crashing down. Ellis explains his downfall in "The Metabolife Story: The Rape of Cinderella."
My review of Element: Tai Chi For Beginners, with Samuel Barnes appeared in yesterday's Birmingham News.
"The slow, flowing movement of tai chi looks inviting. This ancient Chinese martial art is said to reduce stress and improve balance and flexibility. Master teacher Samuel Barnes shows how to perform beginning tai chi postures in his DVD, "Element: Tai Chi for Beginners."
It also appears in the Birmingham News Living blog. Feel free to snoop around, as they regularly post some damn good stuff.
"Some speculate that creativity fuels addiction, but psychologists Eric Maisel and Susan Raeburn believe it can be used for recovery. In "Creative Recovery: A Complete Addiction Treatment Program That Uses Your Natural Creativity," the authors describe techniques that can assist creative people in pursuit of abstinence."
My review of Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, by Herschel Walker with Gary Brozek and Charlene Maxfield appeared in February 2nd edition of The Birmingham News.
It went something like this:
"Football star Herschel Walker knew he had a problem when he considered murdering a man who failed to deliver a new car on time. Ordinarily this might seem like a spoiled celebrity temper tantrum, but Walker wasn't given to having diva-like moments. As a born-again Christian, such rage was unacceptable to him. Coupled with hearing voices in his head encouraging him to commit the crime, Walker knew that he to find out what was wrong."
My review of "Why Don't Your Eyelashes Grow?: Curious Questions Kids Ask About the Human Body" by Dr. Beth Ann Ditkoff with Andrea Ditkoff and Julia Ditkoff was published on January 26 in The Birmingham News.
"You are in line at the grocery store. Suddenly, your daughter spots a woman standing nearby and cries out: "Why does that woman have a mustache?"
After the initial embarrassment subsides, you may be stuck trying to answer an awkward question about the human anatomy. When Dr. Beth Ann Ditkoff's children began asking such questions, she decided to write a book that would have all the answers. The result is "Why Don't Your Eyelashes Grow?: Curious Questions Kids Ask About the Human Body."
My review of "Surviving Ben's Suicide: A Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery," by C. Comfort Shields was published on January 19 in The Birmingham News.
"When her boyfriend, Ben, shot himself in the head, Comfort Shields felt like her life had ended. The 18-month romance was fraught with difficulties, but she had no idea it would end so tragically. In "Surviving Ben's Suicide: A Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery," Shields poignantly discovers that she didn't cause Ben to kill himself; nor could she have healed him from his troubles."
A completely unrelated review was published on January 12 in the Birmingham News. It was the oddest book/video combo I've seen in a while. My quibbles are in the review.
My review of "I Bet I Won't Fret: A Workbook to Help Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder," by Timothy Sisemore was published on January 5 in The Birmingham News.
"Children experience anxiety throughout their lives, but for some it is a constant problem. Pervasive fear becomes a daily struggle, making it difficult for them to talk to friends or go to school. Young people who experience this type of anxiety will find solace in Timothy Sisemore's book, "I Bet I Won't Fret: A Workbook to Help Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder."
My review of "The No Bull Book on Heart Disease: Real Answers to Winning Back Your Heart and Health," by Joel Okner, M.D. and Jeremy Clorfene was published on December 29, 2008.
"The pressure in your chest and shortness of breath are terrifying. An ambulance rushes you to the hospital. After an emergency bypass operation, you learn that you need to make lifestyle changes, but you still don't understand what has happened or why. In Dr. Joel Okner's and Jeremy Clorfene's book "The No Bull Book on Heart Disease: Real Answers to Winning Back Your Heart and Health," readers learn what to expect during and after treatment for heart disease."
My review of 1001 Ways to Relax by Susannah Marriott appeared in the Birmingham News on November 24.
My review of Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope, appeared in The Birmingham News on August 11. And what a story.
My review of "Fit Mama: A Real-Life Fitness Guide for the New Mom" by Stacy Denney and Kate Hodson was published in the Birmingham News on December 1.
"Denney and Hodson's fitness plan is flexible, leaving new mothers lots of options to explore. They also give good advice on how to help juggle self-care and the baby's care. "Fit Mama" provides a wealth of information and reassurance to help new mothers navigate their way through post-partum recovery."
My review of "Hi, I'm Bill and I'm Old: Reinventing My Sobriety for the Long Haul," by William Alexander was published in the Birmingham News on December 15.
"His book is composed of a series of essays, each with a lesson on the aging process. Alexander uses memories from his life to illustrate a point. With gentle humor and simplicity, the book delves deeply into the subjects of God, death and health concerns. Readers witness Alexander's evolution as he remembers an event and then rethinks it, extracting wisdom about the meaning of life."
My review of "Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving," by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark was published in Birmingham News on December 8th.
"Contrary to other health books, these authors believe that the key to good health is in not thinking about yourself. Focusing on what you can contribute to family, friends, community and the world will increase the quality of your emotional and physical well-being. Post and Neimark use studies and anecdotal evidence to back up their claims."
My review of Terrell Owens' book: T.O.'s Finding Fitness: Making the Mind, Body and Spirit Connection for Total Health, co-authored by Buddy Primm and Courtney Parker, was in Monday's Birmingham News.
"Rather than focusing on fitness, Terrell Owens concentrates on Terrell Owens. He includes X-ray pictures of his broken bones, with captions such as "What happened next: Moved to Dallas, became a star!"
The pictures of him demonstrating workouts are shot in a suggestive manner. There is also a full-color gallery of Owens in various poses. It is fair to say that this is the only fitness book on the market that features the author eating candy out of a bowl."
In other news, the ongoing discussion of culture and the economy will continue shortly...
I filed my book reviews before I left for my Honeymoon. If all goes well, they will continue to appear while I'm gone.
My 60th book review for the Birmingham News was published yesterday. Hard to believe that I’ve written that many book reviews. Even harder to believe that they've published them.
Anyway, "Truth, Lies, and the O.R.," Dr. F.W. Ernst and Dr. William G. Pace III can be found here.
“A patient wakes up in the middle of surgery, paralyzed. Although he is fully conscious, he can't communicate to the doctors and nurses around him. He feels the pain of metal screws being inserted into his leg, but he can't flinch. In "Truth, Lies, and the O.R.," Dr. F.W. Ernst and Dr. William G. Pace III describe worst possible scenarios and ways to avoid medical disaster.”
My 59th review was for a less than stellar book. In the past, I’ve opted not to mention these types of books, but I’m reconsidering that policy. As you can see, the fact that the author is a popular blogger didn’t warrant a mention in the review. Why? Because it had nothing to do with anything, though I’m sure there are a few 20th century book critics who will find a way to slam her for having a blog.
My thoughts on number 59? She attempted to squash five summers into one. It shows.
“Rather than being a meditation on sorrow, "Comfort" is a literary portrait of a deceased daughter, drawn by the hand of her grieving mother. Many books will tell you how grief feels, but Hood's book honors a memory.”
Issac Butler and I recently discovered that we read the same book. So we decided to write a review of it on our respective blogs. Here's my review. His review can be found at Parabasis.
In 1999, Geert Mak embarked on a journey, searching for the new Europe. The Euro had officially launched and talk was high that these cultures could meld into a cauldron of superpower strength. His yearlong series for the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad provided a means for Europeans to reflect on their past and their future. These observations have been culled into a book, “In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century.”
Part travelogue and historical memoir, the book begins at the 1900 Paris World Fair, he slides his way through cities that experienced great moments in time. Queen Victoria’s funeral in London dissolves into a three dimensional literary portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm. Berlin shifts to Vienna, followed by World War I. There are no central characters, other than the continent itself.
The settings are ample backdrop for the speaking parts of its citizens. Plain-spoken and at times harsh, these quotes provide insight into a very different mindset. People who have lived through a multitude of political regimes are allowed to question everything and accept nothing. It is a sensibility that is both intensely practical and world-weary.
For the early part of the book, Mak relies on voices from history to get a feeling for what life was like in the early century. People speak through quotes from letters and other documents. As he reaches World War II, citizens begin to discuss their memories.
Perhaps this is reason that World War II is underscored so heavily. There are close to 400 pages alone on World War II, with heavy emphasis on Nazi Germany. Mussolini appears briefly, and the problems in Basque get short shrift. But it is here that Mak’s attention to the issues of European identity begin to crystallize before dissipating again into Nazi history.
The central question to Mak’s book is whether Europeans can grow beyond a history of genocide that extends from concentration camps to “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, the genesis of this problem is never fully uncovered. It may be wrong to ask Mak to answer it. After all, it seems that every place has a difficult history. Each city, state or country has an “other” who becomes the focal point for all that is wrong in that society.
Rather than diagnosing the problem, Mak provides a forum for acknowledgment. How present citizens contend with that history provides debate today. Some residents would like to build monuments to their challenging past, while others would prefer to close their eyes and proclaim it finished.
One of the most memorable chapters is “Himmlerstadt,” which explores Birkenau, a concentration camp in Poland.
Mak vividly describes the crumbling remains of the camp: “Swallows dip and soar above the few barracks that have been left standing, the bare red smokestacks, the groves of birch that grow on human ashes. A bird has built its nest amid the rubble of Crematorium III. Above the gate one can still see the soot from hundreds of steam locomotives that pulled in here.”
Mak then moves on to historical documentation. In this case, it’s a diary of an Auschwitz camp physician. Snippets are used to illustrate what life was like then. Mak juxtaposes this with reflections on what Birkenau means now, especially to those who live in the area.
For them, Birkenau is a place that draws tourists. A resident of the small Polish town says, “Everyone here knew what was going on in the camp, you could see it, or smell it at least. But no one thinks about that anymore.” She goes on to express resentment against the visitors. “You don’t hear anything from the real victims and their families. But you should see the rest of the people who come here.” She continues, “They all claim Auschwitz for themselves. They’ve never suffered for a moment themselves, but my, how they’d like to hitch a ride with the real victims! It’s enough to make you sick.”
Europe has tried nearly every other form of government: socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, and constitutional monarchy. But ultimately, it’s the actions of its citizens that create a country. Mak’s book reveals that Europe has come a long way, and it has a long way yet to go.
My review of Terri Cheney's book, "Manic: A Memoir" is in today's Birmingham News.
"Very little insight is given to these embarrassing situations until late in the book. Chapters resemble cocktail stories, with small doses of horror and humor. But in the end there's a payoff. Cheney wraps this string of situations into a thematic bow that makes complete sense."
Read the rest here.
I'm late in posting this but...
My review of "Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life" by Maggie Callanan was published in the Birmingham News.
"Sensitively written, Callanan outlines in precise detail what a family should know about saying goodbye to a loved one. It is a deeply compassionate and moving book."
Read the rest here.
I reviewed Pamela Aye Simon's "The Book of Blah: Random Thoughts for Boring Days" several weeks ago for the Birmingham News.
“Simon's book is filled with free-verse poetry on the peculiarities of modern life. Her topics are diverse, ranging from technology to clothing, diet and the aging process…The theme throughout the text is of loss and compromise. The narrator is conflicted between her inner life and external circumstances. This underpinning accounts for the sadness that occasionally overwhelms these verses.”
Officially, it falls under the “humor” category, and that was my main quibble with it. Books like “The Book of Blah” are tough to categorize – not quite humor, not quite literary, not quite… You get the idea.
The free verse form fascinates me because of its economy - taking the most important words in the sentence and cutting out the rest. I think my eyes do that quite naturally. Using too many words dilutes the impact of a statement.
Anyway, read the review here.
My review of The Baby Void: My Quest for Motherhood, by Judith Uyterlinde was in yesterday's Birmingham News. An excerpt:
"I know that I have had a miscarriage, but I cannot comprehend the meaning of what has happened. All I feel is physical relief. I stand up to look, but I cannot identify an embryo in the glistening bloody mass." So begins Judith Uyterlinde's journey into infertility. Her book, "The Baby Void: My Quest for Motherhood," describes what it feels like for a woman to gradually lose her ability to conceive a child.
Her family and friends speak in whispers as, one by one, everyone around her begins to bear children. Meanwhile, Uyterlinde tries to conceive with her husband. As the book progresses, she experiences one miscarriage, two ectopic pregnancies, four failed in vitro fertilization attempts and the removal of her only functional fallopian tube.
My review of Distorted: How a Mother and Daughter Unraveled the Truth, the Lies, and the Realities of an Eating Disorder, by Lorri Antosz Benson and Taryn Leigh Benson was published in Monday's Birmingham News
"The book is told as a dual narrative, with each author recalling the same events from a different perspective. This structure provides readers with a grim view of this disintegrating relationship. It is hard not to admire their honesty, as well as their eventual forgiveness. This is an important book for families battling this illness."
Read the whole review... or not.
While Janine and Amy contend with what will soon be known as the Tet Offensive, I thought it would be as good a time as any to reflect on a portion of the writing process thus far.
I always knew that I was an impatient writer. I would love to sit you down and tell you the whole story, from beginning to end. All the twists and turns and how everyone ends up. It's funny to do it this way. Not funny, ha ha. You know what I mean. Not only *how* they end up, but *who* they end up being will surprise you.
Because of this, writing the project became a spiritual practice. Rather than dealing with these people in one straight shot - 120 pages - I live with these people daily. In real life, people don't change because of plot points. Structure is only be seen in hindsight.
Which isn't to say that the story is structureless. It most definitely has a structure - plot points included. But the structure in a form like this has to be subtle.
Tet offficially begins the story. Much of what has already happened was groundwork. The play - in particular Janine's story - opened right at this point. But it seemed important to blog the prelude so people could latch onto the story. Plus, the Coalition for a Democratic Alternative ran a full page ad in the New York Times on January 14. I took it as a sign from God to begin blogging that day.
My review of The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention, by Dawson Church was published last Monday.
"Citing more than 300 medical studies, he proposes that DNA can be altered through the power of belief."
It's a bit heavy into the physics, biology and science realm. If that's your thing, then check it out. The most fascinating passage in this book dealt with the idea of "retrospective prayer," meaning you can pray for someone today and it might've helped them 10 years ago. Wrap your head around that one...
My review of The Black Book of Hollywood Diet Secrets by Kym Douglas and Cindy Pearlman was publishing in Monday's Birmingham News.
"Kym Douglas and Cindy Pearlman know the value of a guilty pleasure. "The Black Book of Hollywood Diet Secrets" is both naughty and bold."
Click happily and try not to feel too guilty.
Monday was so last year, but I'll post it anyway. My review of The Chase for Beauty by Robert Mendelson was published in The Birmingham News.
The book reminded me of one of those Saturday night true-crime shows. Here's an excerpt from the review:
"Hurwitz's life took a shocking turn when his daughter was savagely murdered in the family backyard. The case shook Pittsburgh and made Hurwitz question his faith in God and himself. Before that terrible night, he was a supremely confident surgeon with innovative approaches to difficult cases. In grief, he wondered what was left of a family after their only child is taken from them. On top of that, Hurwitz was then hit with a controversial malpractice suit. He lost, and it almost bankrupted him."