Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an engagingly written look at the limits of medicine and how they impact the choices we have and the decisions we make as we age and, inevitably, approach death. The biggest takeaway for me is threefold: just because a procedure (chemotherapy, surgery, etc.) can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done; we should ask ourselves and our doctors about best possible outcomes, pain, and what is the most reliably way to get to live the rest of our time (days or years) closest to how we want to live them; and we need to have these conversations with the people we love for whom we will be making medical decisions (and who will be making decisions for us). Gawande also covers nursing homes, the evolution of assisted living facilities, and how to think about hospice care. I wish I’d read and thought about this before our dad’s death. He asked to stop dialysis and may have been happier taking a different path. He didn’t share his priorities with us before he got sick, and we didn’t know what to ask.

The reader of this audiobook version (Robert Petkoff) was excellent.

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Review: The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always have such mixed feelings about the Joey Pigza books. But I love Jack Gantos. And this, he says, is the last Pigza book. And, it’s funny, and full of colorful imagery and fully realized scenes and when I read it I was just THERE with Joey and baby Carter Jr., and it’s all awful because if you’ve ever worked in a public school or public library, you know Gantos is not exaggerating. There are awful parents and out-to-lunch parents and parents who are 100% up front about withholding their love from their kids who just want to be loved, and there are parents who cannot bring themselves to think about what their kids need to eat. All too true.

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Review: Ajax Penumbra: 1969

Ajax Penumbra: 1969
Ajax Penumbra: 1969 by Robin Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet return visit with Ajax Penumbra and an introduction to some of the characters we get to know much later. Plus some San Francisco history, a little archaeology, and some high-octane sneaking around. Highly recommended for fans of the first.

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Review: All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will be forever grateful to the patron who came into our library after reading this and proceeded to request everything written by Miriam Toewes. I knew I had wanted to read this but had stuck it on my ‘someday’ list. Due to her enthusiasm, I put it on my ‘now’ list.

This book is about sisters, suicide, mid-life floundering, oppressive upbringings and grief. And yet, it did not bring me down. Elf and Marjorie have a close and beautiful, if not perfect all the time, relationship. And they love their slightly kooky mother and enjoy her company. More than that, the writing just sparkles. I had to make a decision to not write down all the phrases that I loved, because I wanted to continue with the story.

Highly recommended.

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Review: The Uncoupling

The Uncoupling
The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel a little bit bad because I did want to love this book. It’s a great idea – In a small New Jersey town, not far from the city, a new drama teacher decides to stage Lysistrata. While the teenage girls are learning to project, the women of Stellar Plains are experiencing their own version of a sex strike. One by one, as a cold breeze envelops them, they more than lose their desire; they become averse to sex. Their men (and these are all, despite a little mention of one gay marriage, heterosexual) are confused, hurt, resigned.

Here’s what to love: Willa, the daughter of one of the main couples. She is a real teenager. Normal, ordinary, getting ready to have her moment and to learn what she, herself, wants. Marisa, one of her school friends, an excellent student who discovers her political center and also an awareness that she can decide what happens to her based on her own wants and desires. These feel like real girls and real victories.

For me, I just never felt that the whole Greek play as catalyst worked. I love a good fantasy, and science fiction, too. Somehow, though, the spell on which this whole plot spun did not feel real to me. I was not able to believe it. I also had a lot of trouble believing the complacency with which most of these formerly sexually involved and happy women gave up that part of their lives. They largely walked away from it without much thought, other than feeling a little bad about disappointing their partners. If this is supposed be a realistic exploration marriage, relationships, and female desire over time, I would expect each of the women to actively fight to figure out what had changed for them and how to get their desire back.

Then, when [spoiler alert] it turns out the drama teacher has done all this on purpose as part of some G-d complex, well, meh. That seemed a little ‘mwa-ha-ha’ cue the horror movie music.

I did really love the writing of the evening of the play’s actual performance.

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