Friday, July 31, 2009

Down Around Midnight

This book--captivitating, honest, poetic and well written--will live on for me for a long time because I read it aloud to my husband on our trip home from our vacation in southeastern Pennsylvania. The driving time was 8 hours, and as my son happily watched a movie on his DVD player, I read this haunting memoir aloud from cover to cover. We were both mesmerized. I finished just as we were heading up Boltinghouse Road into Bloomington and into our own driveway.

Robert Sabbag experienced a nightmare in the summer of 1979. He was returning to Cape Cod by plane when without warning the plane crashed into a vast forest. He and his fellow survivors--there were 9 including the co-pilot--waited in the dark injured and bleeding and in various states of consciousness for hours before rescue arrived. Then they all convalesced and went their separate ways. Robert tried to put it behind him until 30 years later he felt he he had to investigate the event and write his story. He managed to locate 4 of his fellow passengers from the horrible nightmare and a number of EMT's and hospital personnel who were on duty that night.

This story, as any good memoir reader or writer will tell you, is not a tale told in a linear fashion. It is a catastrophic event meant to be viewed from all sides as a whole piece of truth. The story and it's aftermath is witnessed mainly through Robert Sabbag's reliable eyes (or are they reliable?), but he does a great job of interweaving the stories of the families who were waiting at the airport and the pilot who should not have been flying and the paramedics who bushwhacked their way into the forest and had to carry them on stretchers a mile out of the forest.

This is also the story of a very particular place: Cape Cod. He creates a loving portrait of the peninsula he has come to call home, and as he is re-creating his story of crash and recovery he does it with the backdrop of this historic and eccentric place. I have been to the Cape only twice, but I felt the essential life of the Cape coming through in all the chapters.

This book was pure poetry and Robert Sabbag is a fantastic writer. It is worth noting, that the most haunting parts of the story are naturally the ones he could not tell--the four people from the crash--three young sisters and the co-pilot--who he did not get the opportunity to interview for the book. I hope they read it and understand.

This book also does a great job of presenting and talking about PTSD. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Not too much clinical information or psychological babble, but the poetry of living with PTSD.

I highly recommend this book. It is a fast and enjoyable read.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cocktail Play Dates

Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore by Rachel Brownell is my early review for the month of July. A forty something woman from Seattle who writes and blogs for a living, Ms Brownell told her story of recovery from alcohol addiction.

Lately, I have been interested in the idea of addiction. As I get older I discover that most of us do have an addiction of some form or another. Some people's addictions land them in jail, some just overweight, some strapped for cash and others are simply in a sorry mental state.

Whatever the addiction, if yours is one, like Rachel's, that beats up your psyche, your marriage and ultimately your relationship with your kids, getting help is imperative. Rachel sought out Alcoholics Anonymous and was able to beat her addiction to alcohol. She writes her story of how she got addicted to wine and her first year in recovery.

This very short memoir read like a series of blog posts combined with being a self help manual for recovering addicts. The entire story was a quick read and each entry--representing a chunk of time on the road to gaining her 1 year chip at the AA meetings--felt like something from a blog. Each entry left me wanting more. For example, one of the first people she called after she left her first AA meeting was her mother, who was also a recovering alcoholic. She did not recount any of the conversation or let us know what her mother said. As a reader, I missed this conversation. This is actually a testament to how good the writing was. It felt original and very raw. Her story was incredibly honest... for example, at one point she writes, "I'm proud to call myself an alcoholic, because I'd rather be something real than hide away any longer and pretend everything is just fine when it isn't..."

She successfully built suspense around whether her marriage would survive or not, and she really helped me to understand what it was like to be addicted to alcohol. I loved that for the first 90 days of recovery she wasn't even sure she was an alcoholic and how she came to the conclusion that she had a problem and the pain and grieving she went through as she said good-bye to her former best friend (wine).

In addition to the thought provoking testament to the hardships of addiction and recovery, some of her entries were about things you can do as a family besides cocktail play dates and how to know if you have a problem with alcohol. They seemed sweet to me because if you are not an alcoholic, they were self evident. Also, these entries and her revelations about the sweetness of motherhood were really lovely.

Ultimately I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in addiction and recovery. It is a great road map for success or could be a great support to someone struggling with the same issues. Mommy can be read in an evening.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Good Good Pig

"People ask, 'Will you get another pig?' This I don't know. But one thing I know for sure: a great soul can appear among us at any time, in the form of any creature. I am keeping my eyes open." from The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery.

So I picked up this curious little gem about, of course, a pig. The first fascinating thing I learned about pigs is that no one really knows how long they live, almost all pigs are slaughtered as soon as they are fat enough. The ones that serve as breeding sows are slaughtered as soon as they stop producing enough baby pigs--6 years at the most. Are there any other domestic animals that we treat this way?

So the hero of our story, lived an amazing 13 plus years and affected a lot of people in the process. The flowers and notes came from all over when Christopher Hogwood shuffled off this mortal coil. People loved and admired this pig.

This book isn't really about Christopher Hogwood, although he is a major player. This book is really an autobiography about naturalist and writer Sy Montgomery told through the lens of the life of her hog. She is the animal lover and she is the person who makes a life with animals. She understands them the way most humans do not. Her description of her affection for other creatures reminded me a lot of Temple Grandin who wrote Animals in Translation, another book about someone who can understand animals.

I recommend this book for Steph, for animals lovers of all kinds, for those who like a good story about pure love and devotion, and people who are seeking a great soul in any form.

Although I don't profess to have a kinship for animals, I did recently know a great good dog. Who are the great souls you have known--animal or not?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Little Bee

A friend recommended this book to me and suggested (as does the book jacket) that there is some big secret or mystery at the end that could not be revealed. This book was a lovely, almost poetic work, but it hardly needs a marketing ploy to keep the reader turning pages. Chris Cleave is simply a magical writer.

This is the kind of story which is almost impossible to get through because you can imagine the horrors that are perpetuated upon children in Nigeria pretty easily. You know that although this is a work of fiction--the rapes and murders are hardly fictitious.

So take a deep breath and read about Little Bee who escapes the madness, finds refuge in a detention center and then finds a place to call home in England. Read about the woman who she meets on a beach in Nigeria and the horrifying incident that draws them together.

I kept re-reading the end to see if I had missed something. I can often read too quickly and miss important plot points...did something twisty happen while I was thinking about white skin and dark skin together on a beach in Nigeria? I don't think so.

So, I recommend Little Bee. It is not beach reading but a thoughtful Saturday afternoon read. It goes fast--but you will note some very beautiful images and moving passages throughout. Let me know what you think of the ending...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Youth Sports

A local friend writes a parenting blog and does a weekly radio/podcast on the subject of empathic parenting, (Bonus points to Amy M. for the correct use of empathic!) She introduced me to Mark Hyman's book Until it Hurts: America's Obsession with Youth Sports and How it Hurts our Children. (A sidenote: I am not particularly interested in youth sports other than to sign my kid up for soccer every spring and fall. Truth be told, I love my kid, but I find going to those games dreadfully boring. No big danger in me turning into a psycho parent.)

Mr. Hyman has written a very short book (no more than 150 pages) that really packs a punch. Youth Sports has become a billion dollar industry fueled by parents and coaches and big business who have taken over the games, all games, in an effort to prepare their kids for the big time. Not many kids are having any fun playing games any more. Well meaning parents and coaches who are past their glory days turn sandlot ball into mini-adult training grounds. What is sad, is that when the games were corrupted 50 years ago it involved only the advent of Title we drive girls too hard as well. Mr Hyman has even talked about a new video series for babies to watch to encourage them to become athletes! (As young as 3 months old. The market is there!)

Until it Hurts is quite a page turner and a must read for anyone who has kids, or grandkids or nieces and nephews in youth sports programs. Let's give the games back to the kids.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I both enjoyed and disliked this book.

I enjoyed it because Janice Schofield Eaton has an interesting story to tell, and I felt like she was someone who I could sit next to at a dinner party and enjoy hearing tales of adventure living in Alaska for hours. At the end of the dinner party I would tell her, "You really should write this all down. This is a fascinating story with amazing characters." She lived an exciting life as Alaska was coming of age, and she had the thought to capture it and share it. I was interested in how neighborly everyone was and how Janice and Ed became environmental activists after the Exxon Valdez spill. I was interested in how they got along in the wilds, using outhouses and stocking up on provisions for months at a time. I loved that Janice began to know and catalog medicinal herbs. Its a lovely, captivating story. It felt much the same way that the Laura Ingalls Wilder books felt: deep description about how they do things out on the Alaskan frontier (as opposed to the Prairie).

My problems with the book mostly have to do with her narrative style. It reads almost like a play-by-play book from someone's journal. The dialogue feels unnatural, and there is little personal reflection, simply a catalog on what they did and when. There were no dates until the oil spill, so it felt a little dislocated in time. I kept wondering, when is this going on?

I would love to know how native Alaskans like this story. I will also continue to hope to run into Ms Schofield-Eaton at a dinner party someday. Perhaps I will travel to New Zealand...

This book was part of the ER program on Librarything. If anyone would like to read it, I would love to share it. Just leave a note for me on the blog.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book Versus Movie?

I work for an academic department that studies film, so I am attuned to the prejudice that book readers have against the movie version of their favorite book. Woe be the director who changes any part of a beloved book when adapting it for the screen! Academics who study film denounce that prejudice and believe, as I have come to believe, that you must rate a film on its own merits. To compare the two texts is inevitable, but you begin to wonder if people who do these comparisons understand that films and books are different mediums and are capable of very different forms of expression. Better to rate all the Harry Potter films against one another, rather than compare them all to their respective books.

Since I have so many books to read on my bedside table, and it is hard to find a good novel, I tend to leave the big blockbuster novels like My Sisters Keeper for the big screen, and so last Wednesday, I went with three good friends to take in this summer "tear jerker".

Apparently, according to my companions, the book My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picault had a very different ending than the movie did. What's worse, they would not tell me the ending and said I had to read the book! Huh? Read the book.

I won't bother with a review of the book. Jodi Picault has written dozens of books which have sold a million copies, no one hardly cares what I think at this point, but I will say this, the movie is much much better and is a good case about why and how movies can be better that books.

A movie does not have to be 100 % loyal to its source material. A script writer, director, and producer can feel free to experiment with different endings and add and subtract different scenes. This is helpful, mostly because to adopt a 300 page novel to a feature film, out of necessity you will need to cut some parts. If you want to have a reasonable length for a book you need to cut some of the subplots. In this case, I found a few of the subplots of the book to be trite, and they happily did not appear in the movie.

So, say what you will about the movie version of the book, they ain't all bad. I would love to hear reader comments on this topic. And your favorite book to movie adaptation...