Sunday, February 21, 2010

Between Me and the River (memoir)

Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer, a memoir by Carrie Host

At the age of 40, when her youngest child was only ten months old, Carrie Host was diagnosed with carcinoid tumor, a rare and incurable form of cancer - one that responds to neither chemo nor radiation. Surgery is the only available treatment, but the tumors always comes back, it's the nature of this form of cancer. In a split second, her life is shattered, and the lives of her family and loved ones are thrown into despair and upheaval. After surviving a horrific surgery to remove "98 to 99 percent" of the tumors that filled her abdominal cavity and covered most of her major organs, she then almost dies from a resulting staph infection. Ms. Host tells the first part of her story in slow, agonizing detail; the second half of the book moves along in time at a much quicker pace. She describes not only the physical horrors of her disease and the surgeries she must undergo, but the terrible emotional toll it takes on her and her family.

I was drawn to this book for obvious reasons, having only recently traveled down a similar path with my husband (although his cancer was of a different variety). Although I wasn't the one who had the cancer, I can say that when someone has cancer, it's like the entire nuclear family has cancer. I identified with a lot of what the author wrote about in her book - the fear and uncertainty, feeling a separation from the people around you when you go through something like this, and the feeling of "What now?" when you realize that there is still the rest of your life to be lived, regardless of how long or short that might be.

She ends many of her chapters with little nuggets of wisdom, which, truthfully, irritated me after a while. Also, her reference to "angels" and her constant comparison of her diagnosis of cancer to a river or other raging body of water became tiring. However, I generally liked it and would recommend it to anyone who has been touched by cancer.

Mine's up for grabs; let me know if you want it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Push (novel)

Push by Sapphire

Most everyone has heard of this book now that the movie, Precious, based on this novel is getting Oscar buzz.

Rather than try to describe the story in my own words, I'll quote from the back cover:

Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible: invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem's casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and highly radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as Precious learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it her own for the first time.

This was a hard read. Not in plot complexity, but just emotionally wrenching. Some of the most horrific things you can imagine happening to a child happen in this story. I was hesitant to read it, and I'm still not sure what prompted me to take the leap, as it's not for the faint of heart, and I am of the faint of heart when it comes to the horrors that take place in this book. I'm not giving it a bad review, however; I don't mean to convey that it's not a good book. It's poetic and very well-written and evokes an emotional - and even physical - response. It's just hard.

Judge for yourself. If you want my copy, let me know.

I need something light and happy to read now!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Little Heathens (memoir)

Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

I don't think I've ever actually used the word "delightful" to describe anything, but that's the word I would use to describe this book. Just as its subtitle states, this is the story of "Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression." In it, the author tells of growing up with her siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents on an Iowa farm during the 1930s. Reading the book feels like a balm; like having a sweet old grandmother tell you stories from her youth, from a time and lifestyle long gone. She tells the story as if speaking directly to you, the reader, which I found charming.

Not only does Ms. Kalish tell of events, but she throws in plenty of homespun recipes that she grew up with (for such things as homemade marshmallows, succotash, authentic shortcake, and even soap) as well as describing such things as how to catch and skin a rabbit and how to behead a goose to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner. There are also lots of old photos from the author's youth sprinkled throughout the book.

Reading this took me to a time and place I can hardly imagine - a time and place where people were at one with the land they lived on, who didn't eat a single thing that wasn't cultivated and raised with their own hands, where nothing was ever wasted or taken for granted, and everything was recycled until it dwindled down to nothing, and where ingenuity was relied on for work and for play. It made me feel guilty and ashamed of all the waste and excess we indulge in today. It also made me wonder what - if any - work ethic our kids are being instilled with. On that farm way back when, by the time children were preschool age (not that they had preschool), they were expected to help - it was just a way of life. Everyone's survival depended on everyone cooperating and contributing.

In the end, the author admits that distance from events tends, for some people, to make the heart grow fonder of them. Apparently, her sister did not retain such fond memories of their youth on the farm. Still, the author seems like such an amazing and down-to-earth person (and she's still living, well into her 80s, the sole survivor of her immediate family), and tells her stories with such enthusiasm and charm. I really loved this book and would recommend it.

Mine's up for grabs if anyone wants it!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Escape (memoir)

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

After recently reading The 19th Wife, a novel (albeit fiction based on a great deal of historical fact) about Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints, I wanted to read a true life account of someone who had lived the FLDS life.  This book delivers.  The author was born and raised in a self-contained, closed-off FLDS community in Utah in which polygamy is not only a way of life, but believed by the community's members to be the way to salvation.

Forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 18 to a 50-year-old man who already had three wives and several dozen children, the author went on to have eight children of her own, and tells the story of a brutal and extremely oppressed existence.  After 17 years of being "married" to a power-hungry, abusive man and living a life stripped of any basic rights, Ms. Jessop managed to escape with her eight children in the dark of the night, and from there, build a new life for herself and her children.

The sect she lived in was the same one raided by the FBI in 2008, during which Child Protection Services removed over 400 children from their homes based on suspected abuse.  By the time the raid occurred, the author had already made her escape, and the sect had moved its headquarters to El Dorado, Texas.  It adds an interesting angle, though, to read the account of one woman who actually lived the life of those very sect members.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons between this author's life and the author's life in Infidel; there are so many parallels: the self-proclaimed "prophets" of God, men having multiple wives, arranged/forced marriages, oppression of women, violence towards women and children.  Mind-boggling stuff.

Truthfully, I found the author a bit annoying; she comes across as a little full of herself, and I walked away feeling like there were a lot of questions left unanswered.  A good chunk of the book feels very repetitive, too: day in and day out of the same fights with her "sister wives."  That said, it's a compelling story worth reading.