Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review: The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

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What’s so reassuring about this book is that even the equally intelligent and academic contributors admit that they might not quite understand the immense talent of David Foster Wallace. And for those of us decidedly non-academic writers, this is a very inviting thing. David Foster Wallace’s writing, while incredible, is also intimidating and the contributors seem to sympathize. What a gift to anyone who has ever wanted to learn more about Wallace but has been too afraid to open his pages.

Beauty and pain hide between every line in each one of Wallace’s stories and this book will attempt to explain why. Wallace was an author who had so much more to tell, but yet had already said it all by the time of his death. Yes he was flawed, and we are flawed, but the world is still a heartbreakingly beautiful place. And The Legacy of David Foster Wallace is one of the reasons why – if just for its superb cover art.

A great read for anyone who admires Wallace and anyone who hopes to.

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Review Island Practice: Cobblestone Rash, Underground Tom, and Other Adventures of a Nantucket Doctor

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“If you need an appendectomy, he can do it with a stone scalpel he carved himself. If you have a condition nobody can diagnose—“creeping eruption” perhaps—he can identify what it is, and treat it. A baby with toe-tourniquet syndrome, a human leg that’s washed ashore, a horse with Lyme disease, a narcoleptic falling face-first in the street, a hermit living underground—hardly anything is off-limits for Dr. Timothy J. Lepore. This is the spirited, true story of a colorful, contrarian doctor on the world-famous island of Nantucket.”  — netgalley

Island Practice by Pam Belluck is a nicely drawn biography of the infamous Dr. Lepore, the landmark doctor on Nantucket. Belluck writes with an overall sense of admiration for the doctor, even while describing some of his most controversial tactics. She makes it clear that the islanders feel this same admiration. The reader, however, might not. Dr. Lepore may make house calls and deliver emergency C-Sections, but he also allows islanders to live in underground caves and have sex with animals. Whether you like him or not, however, Dr. Lepore is an engaging and eccentric character, and one well worthy of a biography.

Belluck has certainly done her homework. Her interviews with key figures are short and to the point, and perfectly placed. She does a great job recounting each one of the sometimes strange, sometimes heroic situations the doctor finds himself in. Her readers are sure to come away with an entirely different image of Nantucket. In fact, it’s almost impossible to recognize the Nantucket of the uber-wealthy summer goers inside these pages.

Island Practice is part survival guide, part snap shot of one of the most beautiful and unique places in America. I chose to review this book because my father was raised on Nantucket and my grandmother lived on the island until her dying day. An uncle and cousin still reside year-round and I imagine remain ever grateful for Dr. Lepore.

The Fault In Our Stars

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If you’ve ever read Eckart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, you may better understand why I’m about to compare it to John Green’s magnificent The Fault in Our Stars. The idea behind Tolle’s spiritual self-help book is that who you are, right now, is good enough for the Universe. And if there’s not enough religion in that statement for you, “Universe” can be exchanged for whatever religious figure you choose. The point is: while we may all want a little (or a lot) of fame and fortune, the Universe doesn’t much care. In fact, the only thing the Universe requires of you is to accept the present moment as it is.

Enter Hazel.

Hazel, the protagonist with stage IV thyroid cancer in Green’s latest book, embodies this principal. Brutally aware that she has limited time, the only thing Hazel really wants at this point is not to break her parent’s hearts.

But things change when she meets Augustus.

Augustus, a cancer patient as well, wants more than to accept the present moment as it is. He wants to leave a legacy. And why shouldn’t he want that? The average person would. Hazel, however, is far from average.

Green’s writing is pitch perfect. His lightning quick dialogue is simply fun to read. But the best part of the novel is Hazel, who is not just sweet and down-to-earth and protective, she does what most of us can’t: she dares to be unimportant. Perhaps that’s the definition of a true hero.

Review: Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

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For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother. — goodreads

Ok, now here’s a book that is hard to believe is not fiction. Anyone who has ever had weird, alcoholic, self-absorbed parents may feel like they are reading their own diary. If, that is, they were brave enough to keep one. Wendy Burden gets braver still by letting the world see what is essentially her family diary. She is a master of conjuring up the deepest of emotion with the driest of humor. Exactly like her parents.

All the while, the great great (ect.) granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the great great (ect.) writer of this book, manages to keep the reader in a constant state of, um, confused envy. One the one had, look what she has! But on the other hand, look what she has. Psychotic parents, creepy adults and zero work ethic abound in this memoir. And it’s all deliciously intoxicating to read.

Review: Ninety Days by Bill Clegg

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Review for Ninety Days.

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The goal is ninety. Just ninety clean and sober days to loosen the hold of the addiction that caused Bill Clegg to lose everything. With seventy-three days in rehab behind him he returns to New York and attends two or three meetings each day. It is in these refuges that he befriends essential allies including the seemingly unshakably sober Asa and Polly, who struggles daily with her own cycle of recovery and relapse. 

At first, the support is not enough: Clegg relapses for the first time with only three days left. Written with uncompromised immediacy, NINETY DAYS begins where Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man ends — and tells the wrenching story Clegg’s battle to reclaim his life. As any recovering addict knows, hitting rock bottom is just the beginning. — From Net Galley

 

Ninety Days is the sequel to Clegg’s first memoir, Portrait of a Young Man as an Addict. Both books will bring you to your knees for Clegg. Because what the author has to say about life as an addict isn’t just painful for him, its painful for his readers too. And that’s great writing.

The story takes place in New York City, in both the grimiest neighborhoods and the most posh. Clegg knows the city like the back of his hand, which gives his readers a virtual telescope into the big apple. Some of the characters from Clegg’s first book are brought back for this one. Although not imperative to have read Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, the continuing storyline – particularly the one with Clegg’s long-time partner – will probably mean more if you have.

Ninety Days often reads like Clegg is speaking directly to his fellow addicts, and it’s hard to imagine that his words won’t help. The final scenes of the book are shocking and depressing and yet hopeful at the same time. And that’s because the author’s experiences are huge, but his compassion is yet bigger.

Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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We might know quite a bit about Steve Jobs already, but this book takes us so much deeper into his amazing and sometimes unkind psyche. What I really admired about Isaacson’s writing, is that he never sneaks in his own judgement – which is hard to do with such a passionate subject. Reading this book is like playing a game of he’s a hero – he’s a monster ping-pong. One moment you are completely smitten with the visionary Steve Jobs, and then next moment horrified by him. Isaacson never hints at his own feelings toward Steve Jobs, even up to the end. A great great read about the man who changed everything.

My Rating: Excellent