Context first. I wanted to review this book because I loathed Emily Bazelon's coverage of the Phoebe Prince story. Phoebe Prince was a young woman who was bullied in school and committed suicide in South Hadley, MA. The case became significant because the local DA prosecuted the kids involved and initially leveled felony charges on the kids. Ms. Bazelon's coverage seemed to emphasize that the prosecution was wrongful and unhelpful, but more importantly that bullying did not (and does not) cause suicide. I found her take on the whole event as part of a broader narrative of slut shaming and excuses for abusive behavior. I don't agree with the initial charges leveled by the prosecution in South Hadley nor do I believe that bullying was the direct cause of Ms. Prince's suicide. Having said that, suicide is a complicated multi-faceted choice whose proximal cause is almost always removed from its roots. Bullying can play into suicide by contributing to or creating an individual's trauma history and by creating and reinforcing feelings of low self-esteem that can lead to depression.I disliked the casual way that Ms. Bazelon presented this young woman's psychiatric history as the direct cause of her suicide without acknowledging the role bullying played in her already complicated history. I wanted a more nuanced discussion and I just didn't get that from her reporting. When I saw she'd written a larger narrative on bullying I wanted to read it because I wanted to understand more about her perspective and to see if I missed something from her earlier reporting.Sticks and Stones tells the story of Phoebe Prince and two other kids who are the victims of bullying with different reasons and outcomes in each case. Ms. Bazelon examines the circumstances of each case from the victims' perspective, but also from the perspective of the bullies and the parents, schools, and communities struggling to deal with these issues. She tackles the subject of Internet bullying thoughtfully and with compassion pointing out that with the Internet those who are bullied have little escape. Prior to the Internet bullies couldn't necessarily come through your bedroom window, post-Internet they're everywhere. Ms. Bazelon presents information and research on bullying and on solutions that have been used by different schools to address the issue.Sticks and Stones is good at laying out the problem in a journalistic and dispassionate manner. I liked the opportunity to hear more sides of the stories presented and liked that Ms. Bazelon didn't dehumanize the people involved. In this book I found a nuanced discussion of the Phoebe Prince case that I wanted and didn't get from Ms. Bazelon's earlier reporting. The overall weakness of Ms. Bazelon's writing is her reportorial dispassion and distance (yes, Virginia, things that are strengths can also be weaknesses). The distance leads to an ongoing sense of a lack of compassion, a sense that she just doesn't get it and I find this a disquieting element that effects the quality of the book's narrative. Despite its weaknesses, this is a good book on the topic and I would recommend it to parents and educators who are trying to deal with this on a daily basis. I hope that with better awareness and reporting the days of teachers telling kids that if they just tried harder to fit in everything would be okay are over. Sadly, I doubt it.
A social/oral history of life in Bletchley Park during WWII. It's easy to forget how incredibly heroic the British were during WWII - all that they endured, all that was sacrificed. It's good to be reminded and to be inspired. Breaking the Enigma Code and turning the information into actionable intelligence was the work of many people from crossword puzzle enthusiasts to dons in Mathematics from Cambridge and Oxford. There were military men, scores of young women, and all the logistics associated with running a top secret operation without letting the enemy know it was happening. This book was fascinating and interesting and made me want to read more about this incredible endeavour. It also made me wonder what it would take for such a disparate group of Americans to come together to work on a problem - think we could figure out how to feed more of our own people, or maybe how to get more people off the street, or improve our schools? I know we have governmental bodies that work on these issues, but the notion of getting lots of people in a big complex and giving them free rein has a lot of appeal in these days of gridlock.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Talking to the Dead, but I was blown away. D.C. Fiona Griffiths will be compared to Carol O'Connell's Mallory, but she's her own person with her own set of issues and weaknesses and many strengths. It's obvious from the beginning that something is off with her, but Mr. Bingham doesn't slam you over the head with her difference and this makes the mystery more compelling - the mystery of her and the mystery she's working to solve.Fiona is a Cambridge graduate with a brilliant analytical mind. She finds her initial work on the police force stultifying - how interesting can forensic accounting really be when you aren't a forensic accountant? When a child and her mother are found dead in a squat, Fiona is captivated and begins to insert herself into the investigation finding unexpected links and causing lots and lots of mayhem.Fiona isn't one note. Her character is well-developed and seeing the events of the book through her eyes is pretty amazing. Her intellect and attention to detail and essential vulnerability make you want to cheer her on and to protect her from herself and the rest of the world. With the beginnings of some great secondary characters, Mr. Bingham's got himself a great series going if he wants to continue the story. If he doesn't the work stands on its own. Much enjoyment to be had in reading this one!
The Expats is a very stylish - chic, even - spy thriller. Set in Luxembourg, the story of Kate and the people around her spins and weaves and makes sudden, unexpected turns. It makes me think of the way people drive when they're "shaking a tail." It also makes for a great superstructure for the book.Kate is ex-CIA, having quit a job she wasn't enthralled with to move to Luxembourg with her husband, Dexter. Dexter doesn't know her secret. The days in Luxembourg roll past as Kate tries to figure out what to do with her life, cares for her kids, and has coffees with other mothers in the expat community. Life is more complicated when she meets Julia and her husband - all Kate's instincts tell her they are dangerous. She just can't figure out how.If you like your spy thrillers stylish and literary (think John LeCarre) this is a great book. You'll appreciate the intricacies of plot and the prose. If you like your spy thrillers full of gadgets and macho men (think James Bond) you should try this - throwing shades of gray and deeper complexity into the mix makes the whole thing even more fun. Highly recommended.
Dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels are all the rage the last few years. I suspect it's related in part to the economy and the sociopolitical landscape. The current world ain't what it was. Dystopian novels allow us to write through or read through the basic tension that underlies much of our lives now. Will I lose my job? What if I get sick? What happens if terrorists blow up What if Republicans take power and put women back in the kitchen with no rights? What if Democrats win and take away all our guns and use tax money to do it? What if someone kidnaps/hurts/murders my child? Is school safe? Is my house safe? What if I end up homeless? The list of modern anxiety is endless and much of it, rational or not, is based in part on the reality that we are shown every minute of every day in our living rooms, on our computers, on the radio - the 24-hour news cycle stoking the voyeurism, the anxiety, the fear.I'm hard on the post-apocalypse in fiction. I think it's Margaret Atwood's fault. I was in my early twenties when The Handmaid's Tale was published. It was the mid-eighties, Reagan ruled the roost and pro-life people were beginning to protest at abortion clinics - many of these protests became violent. The evangelical right was on the rise. It was a scary time for me and Ms. Atwood tapped into that anxiety - you could feel the potential for theocracy sliding beneath the surface of our politics. It's a brilliant book and difficult to top or even equal. In all that time only The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell has truly satisfied my requirements. I'm adding White Horse to the list.White Horse is not a young adult novel, although young adults might like it. It's a very adult novel centered around a pandemic, but more importantly the story of one woman's journey through the before, the during, and the after. It's a love story, and love is the motivating factor for Zoe's journey all across the map, but more importantly it's a novel of survival, of search for self and meaning, of the beauty of the journey, of compassion for humanity, of the possibility that lies at journey's end. Ms. Adams writes well and Zoe's voice sings through the death and the ugly and the search for beauty left untouched or begun anew. I loved this book - couldn't put it down. I hope you'll read it. You won't be sorry.
I've been working in healthcare for six years now and within the world of a large urban hospital for about a year. Twelve Patients is a wonderfully written memoir of just what it's like to be in the belly of the beast - the homeless, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, criminals, ordinary people, and the army of staff that keep hospitals running 24/7, 365 days a year. Mr. Manheimer tells wonderful stories, truly connecting the reader to what is happening. He has opinions and uses many of the stories to illustrate his opinions and this is also effective. Full of heart and humanity I cannot recommend this one enough.
I was born in Memphis and lived there until I was midway through middle school. It's changed a lot since then, but I still consider it home and hold it close in my memories. I've gone back when I could - to eat barbecue and look at the river. The Mississippi River is at its widest point at Memphis and if you grew up with it you'll be spoiled forever for any other river - it's just that breathtaking, insinuating itself into your veins.When I was in elementary school I was fortunate to be admitted to the first year of the Talented and Gifted program at my school (which is now an "optional school" with an emphasis on enriched learning and college prep). It was a lifesaver for me because it was so much more challenging and I got to do some really cool things. One of the projects I did was a slide presentation and written report (no PowerPoint back in those days) on the Yellow Fever epidemic described in this book. It was so amazing to realize that so many people could be felled by mosquitos, although I wasn't really surprised. Mosquitos were an ongoing problem in the city when I was a child and I can remember the trucks out spraying for them in the summer and the kids in school who become ill with mosquito-born disease. Mosquitos are very serious and scary little bugs.I became very interested in parasites and infectious disease and their influence on evolution when I was in college and graduate school for biological anthropology and remain fascinated to this day. All this is leading up to my reason for getting this book. So far as I know there hasn't been a good modern book on the epidemic and I wanted to know more.Fever Season tells a story of heroism and chicanery, of the beginnings of the breakdown of barriers between the races and the subsequent breakdown, and most of all of an event that changed the city itself forever in ways that no one could have imagined. Ms. Keith's book is a fascinating and detailed account of the epidemic and the sociocultural and political context that informed how it was fought. You cannot wrap your brain around how many people died and how fast. In a chapter on the clergy who stayed you realize that almost all of them died and the ones that came to replace them died, too. Doctors, nurses, wealthy businessmen, poor whites and blacks - almost everybody died. The story is staggering, inspiring, poignant, maddening, and in many ways terrifying. You see, there still isn't a cure for yellow fever, and an outbreak today would spread and spread and kill and kill without serious (and probably unconstitutional) quarantine efforts.Fascinating, deeply researched, and well-written, Ms. Keith will hold your attention to the bitter end. The world will look different to you after you read this book whether or not you have a connection to Memphis. Try and keep the mosquito population down, y'all.
David Wojnarowicz has been one of my favorite artists since I first discovered him in the early 1980's. He is remembered most for his controversial works and the conservative backlash against them. He was a gay man and much of his subject matter considered his sexuality and the AIDS crisis. He was a street kid for a period of time and wrote a comic about that time period that I adore, 7 Miles a Second (I just saw that it's being re-released by Fantagraphics this February). His work is deeply personal and done in many mediums. He was a prolific writer, as well, and published a number of semi-autobiographical works. I admire his body of work, his courage, and the journey of his life. He died of AIDS in 1992 - a sad loss - but his works remain controversial everywhere they are exhibited. Fire in the Belly is a very good, very detailed biography of Mr. Wojnarowicz diligently researched and well-written. A no-holds barred read, this is highly recommended.
I think most readers have had exposure to World War II history. Most of us have at least cursory knowledge of the big players - FDR, Churchill, Stalin. I was attracted to Dinner with Churchill because of its subject matter - Churchill's use of the dinner table to forward his policies. We're talking food here - and cocktails, and conversation!Churchill is an iconic figure. His size, his cigars, his whiskey, his indomitable spirit. He has always been a symbol of Britain's steadfast resistance to the powers of fascism throughout the devastating affects of the War. Churchill was, simply, a leader - a canny man with a broad grasp of history and an almost preternatural ability to predict possible futures based on a range of choices in any given situation. He was a man of great consequence who used his personal charisma to keep his country free of Hitler's aggression. He loved food and company and used his charisma in a very effective way - through dinner parties, luncheons, breakfasts, picnics - all opportunities for him to develop personal relationships with important figures on his staff, but also throughout the world. His stamina was epic and the stories of these encounters with Churchill and food provide fascinating insight into his policy making strategies.Dinner with Churchill is a journey through the major events of WWII from the perspective of the binding nature of shared meals. If you love food, are interested in food history, in Churchill, in WWII or all or none of the above - this is a great and entertaining read. It'll also make you really hungry - plover's eggs, anyone?
I just wasn't as impressed with this as I thought I would be given previous reviews. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I just don't think it's all that special. Perhaps if I hadn't read Shannon Moroney's memoir in a similar vein, Through the Glass, I might have felt differently about it, but the whole think left me feeling that I'd read an average book - not terrible, just not anything compelling or special.